Postal and courier services

Postal and courier services form a key part of the global communications infrastructure, with high economic and social importance.

Postal and courier services includes express delivery services.


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Developments in the sector  

In recent decades, postal services have undergone radical changes — from a regulatory, operational and technological perspective — throughout the world.

Technological changes have confronted operators with new forms of competition from other communication services (e.g. e-mails), but also presented new opportunities, e.g. the use of technology in the just-in-time shipment of goods by express delivery companies. This is a rapidly growing area which is playing a key role in supply chain management and logistics. Market-oriented reforms have been undertaken in most countries: public postal operators have been corporatized and/or privatized and the scope of postal monopolies reduced. Furthermore, new regulatory issues have arisen as a result of the liberalization of postal markets.


Current commitments and exemptions back to top

A total of 54 WTO members have commitments on courier services and/or postal services (counting the European Communities — 12 as one), as of 31 January 2009).

For consolidated information on countries’ commitments and exemptions on postal and courier services go to the services database. If you are seeking the commitments of a specific WTO member, go to “Jump to a specific sector for a given Member”, select postal and courier services from the sector dropdown list, select the Member of interest and click “go”. To see a table showing which Members have made commitments in postal and courier services choose “See which Members have made commitments in a specific sector”, select Postal and courier services and click “go”.


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Current negotiations 

Postal and courier services are included in the new services negotiations, which began in January 2000. The principles of trade in postal and courier services (including express delivery ) are contained, as for all services, in the General Agreement on Trade in Service (GATS).

At the outset of the services negotiations, a number of negotiating proposals were submitted — by both developed and developing countries (i.e. the European Communities, Mercosur and Bolivia, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United States) — on either postal, courier and/or express delivery. In 2005, the EC submitted a proposal for a reference paper in the sector (TN/S/W/26), and a group of members (EC, Hong Kong China, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and the US) suggested guidelines for scheduling commitments in the sector (TN/S/W/30).

All of the negotiating proposals point to an inadequacy of the Services Sectoral Classification List (MTN.GNS/W/120), which distinguishes postal and courier services on the basis of the nature of the service providers rather than of the services provided — i.e. postal services are essentially defined as those rendered by national postal administrations. Proposals have been made for improved classifications, including in TN/S/W/30.

In terms of market access, proposals have underscored the need for commitments resulting in more extensive coverage of these services in the schedules of commitments. In identifying barriers to market access and national treatment, some proposals have emphasized the existence of monopolies, while others have focused on measures discriminating against foreign suppliers.

Some delegations have encouraged the undertaking of additional commitments in schedules to address certain regulatory issues. Anti-competitive practices, cross-subsidies, universal service obligations, independent regulators and licensing procedures are some of the issues mentioned in this regard. Regarding universal service, the right of members to define the kind of universal service they wish to maintain was not questioned, as suggestions focused on such aspects as transparent, non-discriminatory and competitively neutral implementation.

For information on the negotiating objectives expressed by members, see the annexes to the Reports by the Chair of the Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services to the Trade Negotiations Committee in 2005 (TN/S/20 and TN/S/23).

Following the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference of December 2005, a group members prepared a plurilateral request on postal and courier services, including express delivery, in March 2006.

The request encourages members to provide substantially unrestricted market access, as well as effective national treatment, for services carried out under competitive conditions. It also suggests the undertaking of additional commitments, where possible, so as to have measures in place to address unreasonable practices by dominant suppliers, to ensure that any licensing requirements are transparent and reasonable, and to guarantee that the regulator is independent from any supplier. The request also sets out a series of objectives with respect to sectoral classification of commitments, e.g. clarifying that the sectoral description covers all competitive service suppliers, including monopolies if these operate in competitive conditions outside their exclusive rights.

The request recognizes that government intervention may be necessary to ensure the universal supply of quality basic postal services, including through direct government-supplied services and the designation of exclusive suppliers.


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Additional information 

Search Documents Online
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  • Background paper on postal and courier, express mail services (Document code S/* and keyword “postal or courier or Express delivery”)  > search   > help

You can perform more sophisticated searches from the Documents Online search facility by defining multiple search criteria such as document symbol (i.e. code number), full text search or document date.


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Some other links and useful resources  

Art, Jean-Yves (2002), “Merger Control in the Postal Sector”, in Damien Geradin (ed.), The Liberalization of Postal Services in the European Union, Kluwer Law International.

Crew, Michael and Paul K. Kleindorfer (eds.) (2008), “Competition and Regulation in the Postal and Delivery Sector”, Edward Elgar.

Geradin, Damien (ed.), “The Liberalization of Postal Services in the European Union”, Kluwer Law International.

Guislain, Pierre (ed.) (2004), “The Postal Sector in Developing and Transition Countries”, The World Bank Group, GICTD, Washington DC.

Kenny, Charles (2005), “Reforming the Posts: Abandoning the Monopoly-Supported Postal Universal Service Obligation in Developing Countries”, World Bank Policy Research Paper No. 3627, June.

OECD (1999), “Promoting Competition in the Postal Sector; Policy Roundtable”, Paris.

OECD (2001), “Promoting Competition in the Postal Sector; Policy Brief”, Paris.

Oxford Economic Forecasting (2005), “The Impact of the Express Delivery Industry on the Global Economy”, Oxford (UK), March.

US International Trade Commission (2004), “Express Delivery Services: Competitive Conditions Facing U.S.-Based Firms in Foreign Markets”, Investigation No. 332-456, USITC Publication 3678, Washington DC.

Universal Postal Union (2002), “The Postal Market in the Age of Globalization”, Bern (Switzerland).

Universal Postal Union (2004), “Postal Regulation: Principles and Orientation”, Bern (Switzerland).

Universal Postal Union (2006a), “Development of Postal Services in 2005: A Few Key Figures”, Bern (Switzerland).

Universal Postal Union (2006b), “Status and Structures of Postal Administrations”, Bern (Switzerland), June.

World Bank (1998), “Redirecting Mail: Postal Sector Reform”, Washington DC.

Zhang, Ruosi (2008), “Liberalization of Postal and Courier Services: Ready for Delivery?”, in Marchetti and Roy (eds.),“Opening Markets for Trade in Services”; Countries and Sectors in Bilateral and WTO Negotiations”, WTO and Cambridge University Press.