ICAO and the Universal Postal Union


Established in 1874, the Universal Postal Union (UPU), with its headquarters in Berne, Switzerland, is the second oldest international organization worldwide (after the International Telecommunication Union, ITU); it coordinates postal policies among member nations, in addition to the worldwide postal system, and became in 1948 a specialized agency of the United Nations. French is the official language of the UPU; English was added as a working language in 1994. There are five bodies within the UPU: the Congress, the Council of Administration, the Postal Operations Council, the Consultative Committee, and the International Bureau.


Prior to the establishment of the UPU, each country had to prepare a separate postal treaty with other nations it wished to carry international mail to or from. In some cases, senders would have to calculate postage for each leg of a journey, and potentially find mail forwarders in a third country if there was no direct delivery. The use of postage stamps for prepayment of postage was not introduced until 1840, when the UK established a unified postage charge to be paid by the sender of a letter regardless of the distance it had to travel. To simplify the complexity of this system and consider the problem of standardizing international postal practices, the United States called for an International Postal Congress which gathered in 1863 in Paris representatives of 15 European and American postal administrations. The decisive development came from Heinrich von Stephan, General Post Director for the German Empire; through his diplomacy, he managed to gather postal representatives from 22 countries in Bern from 15 September 1874. At the end of this Conference, the Treaty of Bern was signed on 9 October 1874 and the UPU was initially created under the name General Postal Union; four years later at the Second Congress which met in Paris, the name was changed to Universal Postal Union as the membership in the Union had grown so quickly.


The Treaty of Bern was amended a number of times after its conclusion. On 10 July 1964 (at the 15th UPU Congress which met in Vienna), the UPU incorporated the treaty into a new Constitution of the Universal Postal Union, which is now the treaty that is ratified by states when they wish to join the UPU. World Post Day is observed on 9 October, recalling the date on which the Treaty of Bern was signed.


UPU Emblem

The UPU emblem is full of historic significance, and takes its inspiration from the Universal Postal Union monument erected at the beginning of the 20th century in Berne, Switzerland; it is located in the Kleine Schanze Park in the heart of the city, near the train station. The bronze and granite statue commemorating the Union's founding in 1874 was unveiled on 4 October 1909. It is the work of the French sculptor René de Saint-Marceaux, a member of the Paris Académie des Beaux-Arts. He was commissioned to produce the work following an international competition organized by the Swiss Government on the theme: "Around the world". De Saint-Marceaux's sculpture embodies the UPU's truly universal mission, depicting five messengers, men and women, dancing round around the Earth; they symbolize the five continents as they pass letters round the globe. The monument's symbolic representation was gradually accepted as the UPU's distinctive emblem. The logo appeared for the first time on the cover of the UPU's flagship magazine Union Postale in 1951, and was then used on envelopes and official documents. The UPU's Executive Council adopted it as the Union's official logo in 1967.


ICAO maintained permanent and regular liaison with UPU’s Executive and Liaison Commission and cooperated with various working groups/committees on postal studies. From the early days through its Air Transport Committee, ICAO did a considerable amount of work on studies of the cost of carrying mail by air, mail services, and allied matters, and drafted views on the principles for setting international air mail conveyance rates and transportation charges. Documents and questionnaires were circulated to Contracting States for comments and sent to the UPU shortly afterwards. For the purpose of formulating proposals to be considered at UPU’s triennial congresses, statistical information and comments were provided by ICAO to UPU on airline operating costs and revenues, on commercial rights for the carriage of international air mail, the allocation of mail loads between national and foreign carriers and the resulting tendency towards imbalance between outbound and inbound loads, the effects of the introduction of long-range jet aircraft, the facilitation of international air mail transportation, etc.


Without the UPU, each postal operator would have to negotiate separate agreements with every other foreign postal operator with which it wanted to exchange international mail. More importantly, without the UPU, countries could not be guaranteed mail service to and from nearly every signatory nation around the globe. Prior to 1969, postal administrations did not directly compensate each other for the delivery of international mail since it was assumed that each mail item generated a reciprocal response, resulting in a broad balance of traffic. However, this assumption of equilibrium became obsolete as imbalances developed and sharp differences in postal operators’ costs and efficiency were highlighted. The UPU reacted to these developments in 1969 (since its 16th Congress held in Tokyo) by introducing a mechanism that provided remuneration for the costs of transporting, handling and delivering cross-border mail in the country of destination. The fees that must be paid for these services are commonly referred to as terminal dues. Terminal dues have evolved from a simplified form of payment for weight imbalances in mail exchanges to a system that, for the largest mail exchanges, provides payment for work performed, as measured by the number of items delivered.


Apart from the ordinary or extraordinary Congresses, the Constitution used to provide for Administrative Conferences for the consideration of purely technical questions. The Union has availed itself of this possibility only three times, among which the 1927 The Hague Conference, which laid down the first airmail provisions. See more information about this Conference at: Airline companies officially recognized as airmail carriers.


ICAO regularly provides UPU with a statistical compendium of the finances of international airlines in connexion with the setting of air mail conveyance rates. Close cooperation was maintained with UPU on subjects such as the acceleration of air mail ground handling, the need for improved postal installations at airports, the shipment of perishable biological substances by air mail, etc.


The need for collaboration between the two Organizations on the question of shipment of dangerous items by mail became obvious from the 1980s and required to develop and update dangerous goods plans, guidelines and training to secure the mail. Preventing dangerous goods from entering the mail stream remains a challenge; that’s why training postal employees to be vigilant is crucial. Threats to the air cargo and mail systems as a whole require a global approach in the development and implementation of security requirements and best practices, including cooperation with relevant international organizations in addition to ICAO and UPU, such as the World Customs Organization (WCO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). At the UPU 25th Congress in Doha in 2012, it was recommended to establish an ICAO-UPU Contact Committee on air mail security and safety and to update the ICAO–UPU Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2009 strengthening aspects related to the cooperation on air mail security.


ICAO and the UPU have a long history of working together to ensure the efficient and safe movement of air mail. Of critical importance is UPU’s input to the ICAO processes for setting international standards, recommended practices and guidance material for aviation security.


There are today a countless number of collectors of postage stamps. The postage stamp offers a glimpse into a country’s cultural, artistic and historical heritage. Policies regarding the issue, sale and marketing of postage stamps are a matter for each Union member country. However, Congresses have set down from time to time guidelines and recommended postage stamp themes that are likely to contribute in a general way to strengthening the bonds of international friendship. The UPU has also undertaken a number of activities designed to promote philately.


Uruguay – Postmark cancel dated 9 October 1978 (World Post Day) – UPU Emblem.

The stamp was issued on 17 October 1977 for the 30th Anniversary of ICAO.


Comoros – 22 November 1977 - First commercial flight Paris-New York of Concorde.

De Luxe sheet with diagonal gold overprint "Paris-New-York - 22 nov. 1977".

Graf Zeppelin airship, Concorde and UN ICAO Safety in the Air (stamp-on-stamp issued on 12 June 1978); UN building; UPU emblem for its 100th anniversary.


Hungary - Emblems of CAPEX 78 and the UPU. Capex 78 UNPA blue show cancel with the flight paths.

Canada became a member of UPU in 1878. CAPEX 78 International Philatelic Exhibition, held from 9 to 18 June 1978 in the Automotive Building, Exhibition Place, Toronto, was the occasion to commemorate the centenary of Canada joining the Union. The acronym CAPEX stands for CAnadian Philatelic EXhibition.


Brunei – 30 April 1986 - Admission of Brunei to International Organizations (WMO, ITU, UPU, ICAO).

Achieving full independence on 23 February 1984, Brunei was admitted to UPU on 15 January 1985.


Service cover sent from UN New York to ICAO 10 December 1993 – Word Post Day slogan (9 October).