Let's face it. All the phones, accessories, and other gadgets you see on this site come from one place: China. Actually, considering more than half a trillion dollars in goods came to the United States from there last year, you can count a helluva lot more stuff in that pile. Knowing how trade relations are between these two countries right now, we might be relieved about electronics tariffs that were supposed to come into effect this Sunday being delayed until mid-December. But there's been another autumn deadline we've been hurdling towards that might just make that Chinese import you're planning to take in be it a case, a battery pack, or a burner phone — more expensive starting next year. It involves the USPS and the United Nations governmental body over international postage, the Universal Postal Union.

The UPU was established in 1874 to govern how public postal services would hand off operations for foreign-bound mail. At some point, it took up the issue of how countries would be compensated for the most expensive part of delivering foreign mail: the last mile. The union occasionally determines these so-called "terminal dues" without a vote by its membership. Rates generally compensated poorer nations more for their trouble and developed nations less. The U.S. doesn't seem happy with its terminal dues these days, especially as Chinese exporters have gone direct to consumers via AliExpress, Wish.com, and eBay.

Last October, the Trump administration announced that it would withdraw from the UPU. The USPS's reason, in short, was that the rates system allowed a Chinese seller to pay less for shipping a "small packet" — earrings, cables, phones, phone cases, power banks, security cameras, you name it — to a U.S. consumer than a domestic seller trying to reach that same consumer. It's an axiom that NPR has explored with its "Planet Money" podcast. A special bilateral agreement between the USPS and China Post which gives the U.S. more than the typical UPU rate has helped little.

Minimum shipping rates for a 200g power bank to a U.S. address

USPS First Class PackageUSPS Media MailChina PostChina Post (lowest e-commerce rate)
*Based on foreign exchange, August 29, 2019.
Sources: https://bit.ly/2NEGFF9 https://bit.ly/2Z5DWeJ

On September 24, the union will convene a special session to work out new terminal rates in light of the USPS's intentions. If members decide on a proposal favorable to the Trump administration, the USPS will rescind its withdrawal. Otherwise, the service will officially exit the union on October 17. If it does leave, the postal service is expected to implement rate changes for all international shipments slowly, barring sudden shifts in costs.

Regardless of if the U.S. remains in the UPU, the postal service will be expected to hike rates for small packets come next year. That means you should expect to pay more for a whole bunch of things in 2020 — whether you buy them on AliExpress or Amazon, where importers might pass along the pain.