The UPU Regulatory Conference, held on 9 November during the organization’s Council of Administration (CA) meetings, provided a comprehensive platform for global leaders to discuss the evolving landscape of the postal sector in the age of e-commerce.Focusing on the theme “Postal regulation and e-commerce”, speakers from the sector and beyond shed light on some of the challenges, opportunities and necessary adaptations required for a sustainable and competitive postal and delivery market.
UPU Director General Masahiko Metoki opened the conference, emphasizing the event’s role in generating dialogue that could help define clear pathways for improving postal regulation.
“Through conferences like this one, we aim to provide a global and inclusive platform to generate insight into how the market is evolving, discuss opportunities and challenges, and explore emerging market and customer issues pointing to regulatory gaps and weaknesses that should be addressed by the UPU,” he said. “As a successful outcome of this conference, we hope to map out the role of postal sector regulation in promoting a competitive and sustainable postal and delivery market in the era of e-commerce.”
Reinventing the postal sector
The first panel, led by moderator Rajeev Venugopal, who represents Canada as Co-Chair of the CA Postal Policy and Regulation Committee, focused on reinventing the postal sector in this age of global e-commerce. It gathered insights from Certis24 CEO and founder Chris Stevens and Communications Regulators’ Association of Southern Africa’s Head of Postal Regulation, Brian Mwansa.
Providing a comprehensive overview of the evolving e-commerce landscape, Stevens highlighted that global e-commerce market revenues were expected to reach double pre-pandemic levels by 2024, but cautioned that a significant portion of the volumes from major players such as Amazon and Alibaba was shifting away from traditional postal carriers.
Despite this, he noted that the emergence of business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) models, wherein goods are consolidated at origin and shipped commercially across borders and last-mile delivery is facilitated by either postal services or private operators, is reshaping the industry and provided a major opportunity for postal operators. He proposed that the UPU could play an active role by engaging with players and helping to foster the sector’s integration and interconnection, including with wider postal sector players (WPSPs).
“We need an end-to-end approach where all links in the supply chain are fully connected and fully integrated,” said Stevens.
He added that the UPU could also help gather and share best practices from WPSPs and facilitate the development of sector-wide solutions as part of the future regulatory framework to take advantage of new market opportunities.
For his part, Mwansa emphasized the role of regulation in ensuring the universality of postal services, underlining that the universal service obligation (USO) underpinning this right would need to be updated to reflect shifting postal customer needs – namely, the greater need to exchange goods rather than correspondence. “The focus should shift towards facilitating access to e-commerce, including the flow of data, money and goods,” said Mwansa, who added that regulatory implications related to cybersecurity, data protection and privacy must be considered. This would require collaboration with other regulatory authorities and all stakeholders across the postal supply chain.
Beyond the universal postal service
The event’s second panel saw speakers from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Brazilian Ministry of Communications gather with moderator Nermin Hassan, who represents Egypt as the other Co-Chair of the CA Postal Policy and Regulation Committee, to discuss buyer and seller protection and consumer expectations concerning sustainability in the e-commerce delivery market.
Elizabeth Gachuiri, Economic Affairs Officer at UNCTAD, highlighted the significance of the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection in protecting consumers worldwide, particularly in the context of sustainability and e-commerce. She stressed the need for global cooperation to address challenges such as greenwashing, while acknowledging the limitations of national e-commerce consumer regulations in a cross-border context. She also called for international collaboration to protect international customers – an area that could be further explored within the UPU context.
Francklin Furtado, the Brazilian Ministry of Communications’ Coordinator of Postal Services, discussed the evolving role of postal services beyond the USO. He emphasized the network's potential as a channel for reducing inequalities and expanding the access of remote populations to e-commerce. He highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the essential nature of postal services, not only in terms of communication, but also of receiving goods.
While he highlighted growth opportunities for Posts in the e-commerce market, Furtado also discussed the challenges posed by the trend of free shipping and its impact on sellers, consumers and the environment, noting the value of the UPU as a forum for discussing such crucial issues.
Adapt to survive
The conference concluded with a powerful message: collaboration and adaptation are imperative to face the challenges ahead. The speakers emphasized concerns about the market power of e-commerce sellers and the need to make room for the inclusion of small businesses in global trade and foster the sector’s sustainability.
UPU Deputy Director General Marjan Osvald echoed the sentiment of urgency and stressed the necessity for the postal sector to step out of its comfort zone, adapt and collaborate to ensure its survival in the rapidly evolving landscape of global e-commerce.