Postal security programme forges ahead despite Covid-19 obstacles

Virtual recertification and expert training, equivalency reviews, harmonisation, electronic advance data (EAD) preparations – there is no shortage of activity in UPU’s postal security programme this year.

The travel restrictions imposed by the global pandemic have not stopped progress in this important work.

From January 2021, EAD transmission is going to be required for posts to send items back and forth around the world. The system was originally created to identify threats to aviation security. Now, it has been taken many steps further, according to UPU Security Programme Manager Dawn Wilkes.

“Customs organisations at destination are realising that they can use this data for tax purposes, for statistics, for finding the guns and the drugs and the pharmaceuticals that are not supposed to be there,” she said.

Many posts are already up and running with EAD. “Our main goal is to make sure that everybody in the member countries – including designated operators, customs authorities and national authorities – knows how to make the supply chain safe and secure,” Wilkes added. 

The UPU’s postal security standards, S58 and S59 came into force in 2016. S58 deals specifically with physical and personnel security, while S59 covers the actual screening of the mail.

The UPU Standards Board oversees the implementation of these standards and approves any changes. The Postal Security Group created an S58/59 expert team to improve the certification process and bring potential recommendations to the Standards Board.

The team comprises the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and the Postal Union of the Americas, Spain and Portugal with the UPU International Bureau in an administrative function.

One of the results of that expert team was a proposal to the Standards Board to harmonise S58 and S59 with the World Customs Organization (WCO) SAFE framework of standards.

“We had already highlighted the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regulated status in the first version of S58 and S59 and now we have added in the WCO SAFE framework of standards. In addition, the WCO have recognised S58 and S59 as being equivalent to their SAFE framework of standards,” Wilkes said.

S58/59 equivalency

The reason for this cooperation was to allow member countries whose designated operators had already achieved regulated agent status or the WCO’s authorised economic operator (AEO) status to come to an equivalence with S58 and S59.

To make this possible, the expert team created an additional streamlined certification process which allows these DOs that already have other certifications to achieve S58 and S59 equivalency through a virtual evaluation process.

The United Kingdom Royal Mail group was the first to participate in the UPU’s pilot of this equivalency process in the month of July 2020.

Martin O’Brien, Head of International & Aviation Security at Royal Mail told Union Postale how relationships with other Posts changed as a result of the certification process.

“The process further enhanced an already positive relationship with USPS representatives and the UPU. Olive branch conversations with other Posts will commence upon certification to encourage and support their completion of this process.”

His advice for other Posts seeking S58/59 equivalency? “Prepare and become familiar with the S58 and S59 questions set and the regulations with which you already comply. Use the guide that has been produced and ask the Union S58 & S59 lead for support during the completion of the documentation.”

Meanwhile, some countries in the Latin America and Caribbean regions – the two regions that had the quickest uptake of the standards – were approaching the end of their three-year certification.

Dawn Wilkes explained why: “Historically those regions have had stronger regional postal security groups and that community has been built over decades.”

The expert team came up with a recertification process for the three certification levels – gold, silver and bronze.
Costa Rica, El Salvador and Mexico, for example, had all achieved silver previously and it was determined through the S58/S59 expert team that countries that wanted to recertify at the same level with the same critical facility could complete the process virtually. El Salvador and Mexico took up this option.

In his feedback, Roberto Baranoha of Correos de El Salvador said they were pleased to note that the S58/59 standards were in full harmony with the requirements of other international bodies, such as WCO, ICAO and IATA.
Top management at Correos de El Salvador viewed the process as positive, “Since it is a guarantee that our postal services comply with international regulations in postal security, adjusted to the business, benefiting all stakeholders, customers, customs, designated operators and airlines,” said Baranoha. 

New experts in the pipeline

Another important objective of the Postal Security Group is to try to increase the number of experts in the field. With funding from various sources, the UPU put together a capacity building training programme with the International Narcotics Control Board and the WCO.

“We covered five regions in 2019 and during that training we focused on S58 and S59 certification and how to prepare your DO for that certification and how to review a facility,” Dawn Wilkes explained.

“We also focused on communication with customs officers in the country and how to work together to mitigate threats in the mail, including how to identify the new psychoactive substances like fentanyl that are becoming more prevalent,” she said.  

In the course of the training, the UPU was able to identify outstanding students and they were chosen to work with senior experts in the region. One such individual is Brent Lapsey from St Kitts and Nevis.

Brent was awarded a fellowship from UPU to be a member of a team selected to conduct an onsite security review in St. Vincent (Grenadines) in October 2019 under the leadership of regional UPU coordinator Owena Beepot Pryce.

He found the review a great learning experience. “I intend to use the knowledge gained, to strengthen our security sector and conduct training sessions in my home country,” he said.

The selected individuals are due to continue their training through virtual workshops in November. The original plan was to bring the trainees to the UPU International Bureau in Bern to learn about the administration process and how to write reports. But like so many plans for 2020, the online substitute will have to suffice.