Speech by UPU Secretary General Bishar A. Hussein, UPU third Extraordinary Congress, Geneva, Switzerland, 24 September 2019

Your Excellencies,

Ministers responsible for postal affairs from UPU member countries,

Distinguished Ambassadors and heads of delegation,

Dear delegates and participants,

Invited guests and members of the media,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to stand before you today and to deliver the opening speech at this third Extraordinary Congress.

The first Extraordinary Congress was held in Berne, Switzerland, in 1900, and after more than 100 years the second one was held only last year in Addis Ababa.

Now, one short year later, we are holding our third Extraordinary Congress.

These Congresses, held in short succession, affirm the role and relevance of this organization and reflect the pace of business today. Business can no longer wait.

The model of holding quadrennial Congresses for all decision-making has not always shown itself to be supple enough to meet the demands of the 21st Century.

Recent times have highlighted the Union’s need to move quickly to solve the many challenges of the Union, and to grasp its numerous opportunities.

Ladies and gentlemen,  

I think I can say without risk of embellishment that this is one of the most important meetings in the Universal Postal Union’s 145-year history.

We have come together here in Geneva to decide on one question, and one question only, the issue of remuneration rates.

Before going further, let me say that over the years since the introduction of the remuneration system at our Universal Postal Congress in Tokyo in 1969, we have recognized the system is not fit-for-purpose, but could not be fixed overnight.

Over long years, member countries have striven at successive Congresses to refine and improve the rates to reflect prevailing business trends and models.

In Istanbul, in 2016, I thought a consensus had been found, as well as an acceptable timetable for introducing fairer rates.

It is, therefore, regrettable that the new rates could not come soon enough to prevent the necessity of holding this Congress. 

I should add that I have a deep respect for this Union and the sovereign right of member countries to express their views and reach sensible solutions, no matter how difficult the terrain or uncomfortable the subject.            

The UPU’s purpose has always been to create the forum, invite the member countries and encourage the necessary discussion to transform and empower our industry.

I also feel, however, a firm sense of duty as the Director General of the Universal Postal Union to speak out on behalf of the integrity of the international postal network.

The Universal Postal Union, our Union, is powered by the Universal Service Obligation: the duty to ensure that everyone on this planet has access to the international mail. 

Allow me to quote from the scope and the objectives of the Constitution of the Universal Postal Union that came into force 1875.

“The countries adopting this Constitution shall comprise, under the title of the Universal Postal Union, a single postal territory for the reciprocal exchange of letter-post items. Freedom of transit shall be guaranteed throughout the entire territory of the Union.”

And again,

“The aim of the Union shall be to secure the organization and improvement of the postal services and to promote in this sphere the development of international collaboration.”

This position is as true as it was in 1875, and for 145 years, the UPU has upheld the following phrases: “single postal territory,” “freedom of transit guaranteed throughout the entire territory”, or “the development of international collaboration.”

I choose these quotes to remind us of the very reason for our existence as a Union. 

Our meeting today is about postal remuneration rates, but it is also about all of us choosing the right path.

The right path to protecting the integrity of the Universal Service Obligation;

The right path for all member countries and their sustained postal development; and

The right path to prosperity for this industry.

I believe we are at a fork in the road—a crossroads—where choices made, and verdicts weighed, can set the course for the rest of this century.

As with all such paths, once decided, the Union may never be able to retrace its steps.

The first step along this path will inevitably lead to the next, and the next, until the road taken becomes the only road.   

I say to you that the decisions taken by you must be the correct one to ensure we stand together to bring the necessary changes to this industry.

Change that leverages the past to deliver a better future. 

Our overarching ambition is to uphold “One world. One postal network.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Universal Postal Union has been described as many things: A forum, a platform, a network, and a community, but I want to add one more word to this list: an outlier with a concrete vision for this industry’s success.

For much of its 145 years, the Universal Postal Union has been a cheerleader for the transformation and renewal throughout the industry.

A voice for digitalization, e-commerce and financial services.

And as we move forward to the future, I wish to inform you that we have formulated a roadmap that will keep this Union in tune with industry and general business trends. Thanks to your contribution, we have developed UPU’s postal vision 2030 that encapsulates the future of the Union and the business of the industry.

In this regard, we have identified four key areas that need to be addressed for the future development of the Post, namely:

  • To encourage governments to increase funding in postal development of their respective countries;
  • To urge regulators to harmonizing their tools to enable uptake of new services under new platforms;
  • To urge postal operators to address their performance and ensure that they compete favourably in the increasingly opened market; and
  • And, finally, but very importantly, to seek greater integration of all players into the international postal sector.

The vision has been road tested, and will hopefully form the Abidjan 2020 strategy and go on to catalyze this industry.

But for real success, we must cooperate, we must coordinate, we must unite. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Reaching consensus takes genuine courage. Why? Because each of us must move away from our zone of comfort and each of us must, perhaps, give up just a little of what we want.  

In the coming days as you debate and discuss the subject of remuneration rates, I call on all of you in the name of this historical Union to find the courage to choose the right path not just for yourselves, but for the entire industry.

Thank you.  

*The UPU Director General is referred to as the Secretary General within the context of the Congress