With just weeks remaining in the one-year deadline before international small-parcel mail going into and out from America would have come to a complete halt, a compromise was reached at an emergency meeting in Brussels. Read about the compromise that defused the threat, here.
I'll bet you hadn't heard anything about this past year's worth of small-business international-shipping panic? This just serves to illustrate, in a new way, the distinction between big business and small business.
The major trade deals and tariff wars get all the press because the numbers are so huge, and the players are all well-known to the public. But those major trade-and-tariff deals (or lack thereof) don't affect how much it costs an individual customer to buy something online that needs to be shipped from another country. That's not considered "international trade," that's just postage. Right?
Well, yes. But the line between "international trade" and "parcel post" is surprisingly sharply defined, and if that de minimis monetary value is lowered enough to include that big poster you had printed in China, which ought to reach you before your next book signing, then suddenly it will be considered "imported goods" and subject to the taxes and tariffs you hear about on the evening news. And possibly a whole lot of paperwork too, depending on what country it's coming from.
The Universal Postal Union regulates the international postal rates between countries and helps to determine what qualifies as "mail" and what qualifies as "imported/exported goods." When the current US administration realized how cheap it was to mail things into the USA, and the UPU rebuffed their initial attempts to unilaterally lower the value limit so that expensive mail coming into the USA could be taxed as "imports," the US administration decided to back out of the UPU altogether.
Here's what happened last week:
The deal struck this week will allow the US, as well as other countries if they choose to opt-in, to set its own rates for delivering small parcels from other countries. These rates will go into effect in July of 2020. Other countries will start phasing in higher rates over five years, starting in January 2021. This compromise solution puts the world on a path to a fairer rate system for international mail delivery. Just as importantly, it allows the US to remain in the UPU and avoids the chaos that could have resulted from US withdrawal.
...so, we dodged the bullet of chaos, and that's good.
But brace yourself, authors and scholars, for book shipping costs ("media rate" mail) to rise significantly in July of next year, and to rise again in January of 2021.