UPU involvement in the 32nd Conference on Postal and Delivery Economics

The 32nd Postal and Delivery Economics Conference, held from 29 to 31 May at the Universal Postal Union headquarters in Berne, ended on a positive note, showcasing a successful partnership with the UPU.

This event – organized annually by the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and the Centre for a Digital Society of the European University Institute (EUI) – brought together over 140 speakers and participants from industry-leading businesses, regulators and academia, to explore burning topics such as e‑commerce logistics, postal regulation and sustainability.

Supported by major players like Amazon, the UK regulator Ofcom and Swiss Post, the conference featured the presentation of 30 academic papers across engaging plenary and parallel sessions. A highlight of the event was the global dialogue on the use of artificial intelligence in postal policy, optimizing international delivery networks and enhancing e-commerce integration for the future of postal and delivery services.

Innovative approaches to postal policy design

At the opening plenary session, José Anson, a postal economist at the UPU and logistics tech entrepreneur, and co-author Anna Renata Pisarkiewicz, research fellow at the EUI, presented their findings on the "Effect of Digital Regulations on E-Commerce Trade".  Another significant contribution to the conference was from Yaxuan Chen, a sustainability services expert at the UPU, who led the UPU team in introducing their research paper on "The Digital and Green Twin Transformation in the Postal Sector: Synergies and Strategies for a Sustainable Future".

The first conference discussion on the research by Anson and Pisarkiewicz commenced with Saleh Khan, Head of Strategy, Research and Innovation at the UPU, who emphasized the critical role of scenario modelling in policy innovation. This involves experts from various fields, including business and policy, coming together to create complex models that explore the implications of policy on the real economy. Khan discussed using AI to model an economy, integrating policy descriptions from the postal market to adjust specific elements related to the Post and universal services within these models. He noted, “there is much to be said about the impact of policies on economic metrics like GDP, life expectancy and mental health.”

Postal networks, e-commerce and trade

On the second day, José Anson further explored the evolving dynamics of cross-border e-commerce in the light of digital regulations and preferential trade agreements (PTAs). Traditionally somewhat marginalized in trade discussions, e-commerce has recently been propelled to the forefront of trade policy to be more comprehensively included within PTAs due to its significant impact on international trade volumes. Anson’s analysis highlighted the challenges and complex realities associated with modifying trade regulations. “It underscores the need for thoughtful design and implementation of such agreements if we are to truly benefit cross-border e-commerce,” he concluded.

Sustainable postal ecosystem

The third day featured two parallel sessions and a regulatory round table. The focus of one parallel session presentation, led by Yaxuan Chen and her UPU team, showcased how the postal sector is adapting to digital transformation and environmental initiatives. These are prompting a “twin transition” impacting consumer behaviour, business operations and market conditions, but are also highlighting gaps when it comes to fully utilizing data and infrastructure for broader social benefits. She emphasized the importance of digital tools in achieving effective green transformations and integrating sustainability into digital strategies, which leads to the development of new products and services, transforming industries and creating new market segments.

Despite challenges, including traditional reliance on fossil fuels and uneven progress in adopting green practices due to varying national circumstances, Chen noted, “policymakers should view postal networks as strategic assets and promote international cooperation among postal services.” Following the presentations, James Hale, a sustainable development expert at the UPU, posed a question to the authors about the type of investments needed to foster effective cooperation between digital and environmental actors with different professional practices and backgrounds which manifests in distinct knowledge bases, languages and definitions of success. “Our goal is to move beyond parallel transitions to achieve meaningful interaction between these two communities,” he commented.

Regulatory round table

Chaired by Siva Somasundram, Director of Policy, Regulation and Markets at the UPU, the regulatory round table saw robust discussions among experts from diverse postal backgrounds who gathered to discuss the main topics covered during the three-day conference. Panellists included Brian Mwansa from the Communications Regulators' Association of Southern Africa; Annegret Groebel from the German Regulatory Authority for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications, Post and Railway Markets; Matthew Robinson from the US Postal Regulatory Commission; Katrin Feiz from the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority; and Alia Taya Janda from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Oman. Topics covered included the evolution of the universal service obligation to potentially encompass services like e-commerce, financial services and government services for broader socio-economic inclusion. Brian Mwansa noted, “this approach would align more closely with fundamental human rights and the current digital and economic environment, making the definition more inclusive and relevant.”

Discussions also revolved around the impact of e-commerce on postal services, challenges in delivery and logistics, and the potential redefinition of what constitutes basic postal services in the light of digital transformation. The round table highlighted the need for flexible regulations that can adapt to technological advances and align with current market conditions and consumer demands.

The conference closed with reflections on its success by Pier Luigi Parcu of the EUI and Victor Glassof Rutgers Business School, and discussions on future collaborations, particularly through the UPU Innovation Challenge. Marjan Osvald, UPU Deputy Director General, underscored the ongoing need to leverage AI and optimize delivery networks to enhance e-commerce integration. "I think we should always bear in mind that the Post is a local window to the global world, both physical and digital," he said.

The conference, held in tandem with the work of the UPU Innovation Challenge, not only highlighted the importance of innovative approaches in the postal and delivery sectors, but also set the stage for more integrated and interactive future events in collaboration with the UPU.

For more details about the 32nd Conference on Postal and Delivery Economics, click here.

For more details about the UPU Innovation Challenge 2024, click here.