Trump pulls out of Universal Postal Union. He is not completely wrong.

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Sean in Ottawa
Trump pulls out of Universal Postal Union. He is not completely wrong.

First let me declare biases:

I collect stamps- I am used to postal union stamps commerating the UPU going back all the way.

I hate Trump. This does not need further explanation to anyone who can read the news.

But the story about the Universal Postal Union is different. I cannot slam Trump and call it a day.

The UPU allows packages paid by sender in one country to be delivered without charge in another.

The reality of post is that it is more costly to deliver a package than for it to enter the postal system even though the sender pays. (The reason is sending is more consolidated -- Trucks can bring packages to the post office that enter en masse and be broken down only by country and then, once there, must be broken down to individual often residential destinations. So a package coming from China costs that country's postal system a fraction of what it would cost Canada post to deliver it.

There is a much lower rate for developing countries. This is sensible when you consider the need for many of those countries to use their access to the global market to increase their revenue. Countries such as many in Africa depend on this.

The deal was not meant to address the large volume of mail created by individual on-line orders - It predates the internet as a global retail marketplace. It was not meant to apply to the largest retail manufacturing economy of the world, China -- when the deal began China did not ship in this way. But it does now. This means that China can buy the material, make a product, ship it from China cheaper than it would cost for the shipping alone in the same Canadian city. Not a bit cheaper but  perhaps a factor as much as 1000% (10 times). Ever wondered why Amazon or ebay sellers can offer free shipping from China?

This results in three problems in Canada:

1) The subsidy for the delivery is a cost absorbed by our domestic postal service making domestic shipping more costly or requiring the government to subsidize the service. Ironically this drives up the cost for domestic shippers including including letter mail.

2) Canadian businesses often cannot compete even if they sell their items for nothing. The difference in shipping is more than the cost of the item itself.

3) Consumers are encouraged due to the subsidy to buy many cheap, low-quality items so far below real cost - these items do not last and cause more waste and pollution. Many are plastics (petroleum products). Environmentally this subsidy to transport junk at rock-bottom prices is not sustainable.

Now I am not against even a subsidy to China as it is a developing country. However, that subsidy should NOT take the form of the creation of an activity more harmful to the environment, but instead it should support efforts to clean and manage the environment.

Canada's subsidy should not be for China to make more crap and ship it here at  less cost than we can mail a letter in the same city here. It should be to clean up pollution there caused by the manufacture of items consumers here buy. We should subsidize efforts to clean their air and water and soil rather than for them to make stuff that should not even be sold at all since it is designed to be put in a landfill a short time later.

So Trump is a turd. But when it comes to the Postal Union he is not all wrong. The solution, instead of pulling out, was to start a conversation about how unsustainable it is. It is to replace the negative subsidy from the point of view of the environment with a positive one. It is to stop treating China as a developing country in manufacturing when they are the most developed in that activity of any.

Instead there are people who are left of centre, environmentally concerned, attacking Trump for the action suggesting that nothing needs to be done. The means and motive are wrong for the US action but the issue is real. The UPU has to stop encouraging the waste of the entire world's consumption. The subsidy is not flowing to China anyway, since they are reducing the price. It is flowing to the consumption by wealthy countries at the cost of the environment and the cost of our local post office and economies.

Subsidies to developing countries do not need to take the form of helping make more stuff for us -- it should be to help the local people there live better lives there. The UPU is following an antiquated and globally harmful policy.

Canada could back the Trump positioon here and call for negotiation to create new terms for the UPU that remove subsidies -- and encourage the savings to subsidize better efforts. Such a compromise position from Canada, which supports recognition of Trump's problem, could also even get the US to compromise to a made in Canada proposal to rather than remove, reform the subsidies to developing countries to go to the ones needing it most, in the way the planet needs most, and away from destructive activity.