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Latin American perspectives an interview with Roberto Cavanna Merchán

Union Postale had the chance to ask Postal Union of the Americas, Spain and Portugal (PUASP) Secretary General Roberto Cavanna Merchán for his views on the postal sector in Latin America.

Interview by: Kayla Redstone

Union Postale: You have been at the helm of PUASP for several years now. How have you seen the postal landscape in your region change during this time?

Roberto Cavanna Merchán: I have been leading PUASP since 2014, and during this time and in my previous years working as CEO of the Ecuadorian Post, I have seen many changes in the postal sector.

The emergence and development of new technologies, in particular the Internet, deceived governments and the general population into thinking that the Posts had their days numbered, without realizing that the Internet is a major ally of the Post due to the growth of online shopping. It should be noted that only Posts have the required coverage to meet domestic demand. At the same time, new technologies have evolved into important tools for Posts to improve their quality of service.

In recent years, designated operators of developing countries have in most cases lacked a state service policy and received little or no government support at all. Although the state has an obligation to provide a universal postal service, this obligation has often been transferred to the designated operator without an adequate support, which is not necessarily economical.

As a consequence, there is an increased development of private operators, which are even more efficient than public operators in some cases. This demonstrates that the postal business is an excellent one as long as it is well managed by postal sector experts.

Designated operators have lost certain privileges in the market that once assured them a substantial income making the universal postal service sustainable.

The economic and political situation of certain countries has produced major migratory movements, which has also brought about the growth of postal streams accompanied by increased economic revenue arising from the global remuneration system.

What do you think is the most common shared challenge faced by Latin American postal operators?

The most common shared challenge is that the quality of service in most of the countries of our region is far from adequate, to say the least. It should also be noted that they do not have appropriate infrastructure.

The situation is continually changing, and of course there are other challenges countries face, such as the lack of long-term government and regulatory postal policies. Abandoning the Post to its own fate and not modernizing it on time, among other things, has exposed the Post’s weaknesses to face worldwide problems in the postal service.

Additionally, there is a high turnover of senior postal authorities in the region and the current financial situation of some Posts shows that they are dependent on the ruling government.

“It depends on us to ensure that the postal sector becomes one of social public policies in each country. “

What is your vision to help designated operators in your region overcome this challenge?

What is needed is perspective, perseverance, decision-making power, a will to change things, intelligence, industry knowledge, willingness to listen to those who know better, strategy and humility to acknowledge the real situation. Posts need to seize the opportunity to do something good for their country.

In other words, leaders have to have their feet on the ground, have good judgement, be positive, be practical, know how to communicate with all staff members, be good communicators with a hotline to the government, and to share a vision of long-term business growth, among other virtues.

What opportunities should Latin American postal operators look towards in the coming years?

I think that in the foreseeable future we must wonder what we want for the postal sector. Do we want to strengthen it? Do we want to sell designated operators? Do we want to license designated operators? Do we want to create strategic alliances? Do we want to serve the those excluded? Do we want to use the postal service as the executive branch of social public policies?

We have to pose these and other questions because the Post can become a powerful tool for governments thanks to its infrastructure and coverage, as well as the services that it provides. Please, let’s stop thinking that the Post is a service used exclusively for transporting letters. The postal service is much more than that.

The governments of the member countries have in their hands the opportunity to modernize the postal sector, so that the Posts and other stakeholders can focus on customers’ needs and quality improvement. An accessible and affordable universal postal service should be provided throughout all countries and Posts should become job and business generators that are self-sustainable and not reliant on the state budget. Posts should also be prepared to meet the changing needs of the society they serve.

It depends on us to ensure that the postal sector becomes one of the executive branches of social public policies in each country. It should benefit the country itself and particularly the inhabitants of rural and remote areas, as well as our fellow-citizens living abroad.

How do you think the UPU could help with both challenges & opportunities in the region?

The UPU always has a key role to play. As a platform for establishing international agreements and providing worldwide cooperation, the Union is in an incomparable position to come up with solutions, dialogue with governments and focus on regional and global technical cooperation projects to face new challenges. In addition to this, it gathers and analyzes essential knowledge for the postal sector framed within the UN System, so it is vital that we take advantage of this in order to benefit the sector from opportunities.

“What is needed decision-making power, a will to change things, intelligence, industry knowledge, willingness to listen to those who know better, strategy and humility to acknowledge the real situation. Posts need to seize the opportunity to do something good for their country. “

Although achieving agreements among so many member countries is always the first tough challenge ahead, the UPU has to put all of its efforts into researching and sharing valuable information with member countries and creating a productive, executive and comfortable space for dialogue among them. In this sense, the Union could use all the tools it has at hand and work with stakeholders willing to help, such as Restricted Unions.

What decisions do you hope will be made in Abidjan to strengthen the position of postal operators?

Improving quality of service is the key goal postal operators have nowadays. Abidjan should approve decisions in that sense, focusing on fostering partnerships, improving operational processes, strengthening their knowledge of the optimal uses of IT solutions from the PTC. Sometimes operators have the adequate IT solutions, but do not take advantage of all their potentialities and uses, losing information and relevant data to be analyzed in order to improve business and reliability.

Aside from this, remuneration matters will maintain their importance, so a stronger remuneration scenario for all operators should be come about in Abidjan.