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Swiss-based Universal Postal Union celebrates 125th anniversary

One of the least-known international organisations in Switzerland, the Universal Postal Union, is this weekend celebrating its 125th anniversary. The agency exists to ensure universal services for all its members, and it faces a number of challenges.

This content was published on October 8, 1999 - 17:30

One of the least-known international organisations in Switzerland, the Universal Postal Union, is this weekend celebrating its 125th anniversary. Based in the Swiss capital Berne, the United Nations agency exists to ensure universal services for all its members and it has faced a number of challenges.

The UPU is rolling out the red carpet this weekend for such high-profile guests as the Swiss Communications Minister Moritz Leuenberger, the U.N. Director-General in Geneva, Vladimir Petrovsky, and a host of diplomats from the 189 countries represented in the organisation.

From the outset, the UPU has been based in a modern multi-storey building in a leafy suburb of Berne, enjoying the tax breaks of other U.N. agencies mostly
based in Geneva.

In an age of rapidly changing technology, the UPU is facing a whole series of challenges. Those problems were clearly identified at the UPU's 125th anniversary congress, which recently ended in the Chinese capital Beijing with a blueprint for the future, called the Beijing Postal Strategy.

One of the main challenges is how the UPU and its members should adapt to a changing postal environment in the face of competition, deregulation, globalisation and the liberalisation of markets.

There is the challenge to provide a universal service, which is a "universal right," according to UPU Director-General Thomas Leavey.

There is also the UPU’s attempt to make maxium use of new technologies and ensure that the gap between developed and less developed countries does not grow wider, he told a news briefing in Berne.

The Beijing congress was devoted to many of these issues and proved very successful, Leavy said.

"It brought together postal leaders and decision makers from the worldwide postal business, as well as other stakeholders. The congress was also proof of the efforts by the UPU to become more transparent and more customer focussed, " Leavey said.

Six key areas were discussed and evaluated in Beijing. These included the provision of a universal postal service, ways of ensuring that customers' needs and expectations are met, and the economic viability of the international postal network.

Also high on the agenda were the development of postal markets and products, postal reform and ways of ensuring greater cooperation and interaction among stakeholders of the postal industry.

"I am optimistic that postal services can retain and enhance their position as a major player in the ongoing communications revolution if we successfully implement the six objectives set out in the Beijing Postal Strategy, " said Leavey.

The UPU has a special relationship with Switzerland. Under the guidance of German Heinrich von Stephan, the Swiss government convened a conference in Berne in 1874, when 22 nations signed the Treaty of Berne to establish the General Postal Union. Membership grew so quickly that, by 1878, it was renamed the Universal Postal Union.

About 6 million people now work in 700,000 postal offices around the world, handling about 400 billion dispatches a year.

Despite the introduction of electronic mail, traditional postal services are still growing at a rate of more than two percent annually, says Leavey. Now, he says, the challenge is to ensure that this growth rate continues.

From staff and wire reports

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