*House Panel Passes International Postal Bill

The House Appropriations Committee unexpectedly passed a bill last week that could take away the U.S. Postal Service's control over international mail.

If the legislation, which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Anne M. Northup (R-KY) and passed by a 30-20 vote, is approved by the full House, it would give control to U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky.

Her office then would formulate and oversee foreign policy related to international postal and delivery services and would represent the United States in all international postal negotiations at the Universal Postal Union, a consortium of 189 postal authorities around the world that sets guidelines on handling international mail. The office of the trade representative was created to negotiate international trade issues.

If Northup's amendment is passed, Barshefsky will have to consult with the international postal services providers and the general public before making any decisions about the USPS.

Northup saidthe nature of the bill is to allow equal treatment for private businesses and the USPS. Northup presented it at a committee mark-up meeting as an amendment to the Treasury Postal Appropriations bill, which came out of subcommittee earlier this month.

The postal service, however, still would retain some authority. For example, it would be able to enter into commercial and operational contracts with international postal services as it deems necessary, but it wouldn't be able to enter into any contract with a foreign government agency that would grant an undue or unreasonable preference. In addition, Northup's bill would not change the USPS' current international rate-making procedure, in which the Board of Governors has the authority to set rates.

This legislation comes on the heels of the International Postal Services Act (S-2082), which was introduced May 14 by U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). This suggests subjecting international mail to the same rate-making procedure as domestic mail. There are no immediate plans to move that bill in the Senate.

Northup said that if her amendment is passed in Congress this session, its agenda should be set by February to prepare for next summer's meeting of the Universal Postal Union. Then, whatever comes from that meeting will be in place for five years.

U.S. Rep. John McHugh (R-NY), chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Postal Services, supports the bill.

“Northup believes the measure should be advanced for the Congress. I and [Rep. Dan] Burton [R-IN] did not object,” he said. Burton is chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which oversees McHugh's Subcommittee.

“The overall intent of having the U.S. Trade Representative be the principal for the United States in these negotiations is the same as in my bill [H.R. 22],” McHugh said. “There has been a great deal of debate in the mailing industry as to the reality of fair or unfair trade situations as negotiated through the [Universal] Postal Union. Because the USPS is the negotiator, it calls into question the fairness of the process. I think it's important that we look to an independent party to negotiate this.”

Private carriers such as UPS and Fed Ex support Northup's bill, but the Direct Marketing Association and the USPS vehemently oppose it.

“The bill is very negative as far as Global Package Link is concerned, and it will probably help knock the postal service out of the box,” said Richard Barton, senior vice president of congressional affairs at the DMA. “The Trade Department is on record saying that they do not want this jurisdiction and that they're not equipped to handle it. We are going to try to have it knocked out on the floor of the House.”

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