June 28, 2010

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

Pohnpei, FSM-Address a package that includes the ZIP code 90210 and, because of the hit 1990's television show, postal employees around the world would likely know that the package is bound for Beverly Hills, California. Address a package to 96941, 96942, 96943, or 96944 with the US Postal Service assigned two letter abbreviation of FM (Federated States of Micronesia, or FSM) and sometimes even in the United States, postal employees may give you blank stares.

It's not a new United States Postal Service regulation that mail bound for the FSM should be treated as U.S. domestic mail. Throughout the first Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and the FSM, mail destined for the Freely Associated States which includes the FSM was handled in the U.S. as domestic mail.

In January of 2006, after the Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and the FSM (Compact II) had taken effect, the United States Postal Service (USPS) essentially cancelled the ZIP codes that had previously applied to the FSM. It didn't mean that mail could not be sent to the FSM but it did mean that all mail would be treated as international mail which costs significantly more than domestic mail.

In November of 2007 the USPS reversed their 2006 decision and reinstated domes-tic styled priority mail services for the FSM. They said that the application of international rates to the Freely Associated States had observable effects on the economy and business correspondence of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the FSM.

"The Postal Service had considered a number of business solutions to lessen that impact. Technological and other obstacles currently make other solutions impracticable. Therefore, to allow the governments of the RMI and the FSM to continue to pursue appropriate long term solutions to this problem without adversely impacting the economies of the parties and the lives of their people, the Postal Service takes this step to return the parties and their people to the position they held prior to the application of the international mail schedule to them," USPS representative wrote in the October 31, 2007 issue of the Federal Register.

The US Postal Service updated the manuals that postal employees use to guide their actions to reinstate US domestic styled and priced postal services to the FSM and the RMI. Just the same, some US Postal employees are not familiar with the FSM or the RMI and after two and half years some still are not up to speed on the changes in the Domestic Mail Manual in regards to the FSM and the RMI.

Even with reinstated domestic type mail services to the FSM and the RMI it can be difficult to find companies who will ship to the countries. Sometimes a potential customer of a US based business can send a copy of the changed postal regulations to that business's shipping department and the problem is solved. The pages in the regulations that applies to the FSM and the RMI can be found at text/dmm300/608.htm.

Though US businesses can ship to the FSM they are not in any way required to do so.

"The decision whether to ship to the FSM lies totally with the private company," wrote Mr. Leo Tudela in an email. Tudela is the Director of Asia-Pacific International Relations for the U.S. Postal Service. "For example, the USPS has been notified recently that Wall Mart will no longer ship to any destination that does not support Electronic Delivery Confirmation. Thus, WalMart will no longer ship to the RMI, the FSM, Palau, and the CNMI for example, as these destinations do not offer electronic delivery confirmation. WalMart must be able to obtain electronic proof of delivery else it will not ship to that destination."

FSM's Assistant Post Master General Jack Jack said that some time before he start-ed work with the FSM Postal Service the USPS provided the FSM with equipment that would allow for electronic delivery confirmation. He said that in the estimation of the US Postal Service the cost for that service was just too high, not because of electronic communication expense but because the volume was so low. It just wasn't worth it to have the equipment here and the USPS removed it. "Nothing has changed because of the fiber optic," Jack said.

Some customers in the FSM recently began to notice a change in the shipping policies of companies in the United States from whom they'd previously successfully done business. Tudela said that no USPS regulations had changed that might have caused that shift.

"The US Postal Service has not made any recent policy changes regarding shipment to the FSM and the rest of the Freely Association States (FAS), with the exception of a cigarette and smokeless tobacco mail ability ban which will go into effect later this month, which affects not only the FSM but most of the United States and all of the FAS. These products will no longer be mailable," wrote Tudela.

"On a broader scale, the USPS knows of companies that simply will not ship out-side the United States. Please be aware, that while mail shipped to the FSM uses US domestic zip codes and rates for post-age, it is not domestic mail. The FSM as well as all of the FAS mail is 'treated as domestic mail.' Many companies will not ship to Guam and the CNMI US Post Offices. The US military in Guam for example, also wants companies to ship to them but companies refuse. Please note that many on-line companies will not ship even to Hawaii or may only ship to the 'lower 48.' Again, the decision to where a company will ship is solely that of the individual company. Even if a company will ship to a certain geographic area, it may not use the US Postal Service, but rather UPS or FEDEX, even if the customer specifically requests USPS. The reason for this is that many companies want to ship with only one provider for many different reasons, including being able to provide bundled discounted pricing, if contractually all their shipments are sent with that one vendor (shipper)," Tudela wrote.

While the US Postal Service treats FSM and RMI bound mail as if were domestic mail, UPS, FEDEX, DHL and other private services do not, and the companies charge an international shipping rate to send mail to the countries.

The FSM has not changed its postal regulations in any way that would hinder shipping to the FSM from the United States either.

The FSM Postmaster General did send out a press release recently saying that mail from outside of the FSM or the United States of America should include an extra line following the ZIP code that says "United States of America."

This is not some nefarious United States of America plan to usurp FSM sovereignty. It simply helps to insure that mail sent from locations other than in the United States and the FSM arrives where it is supposed arrive.

"It took my mother more than two hours to send a package to me from France," one recently arrived resident of the FSM said. "It wasn't some small post office. It's a huge post office in Paris…Pohnpei wasn't in their computer."

She said that if she had seen the FSM Post-master's press release it could have saved her mother a great deal of time.

"The USPS has been trying to convince the private companies to ship to these areas, but some of them still continue not to ship for the reason above," Tudela wrote. "The USPS will continue to follow up with the private companies to have a favorable response."