Over the past week, Postal Service restrictions on shipping electronic devices such as cell phones, mpc players, tablets and laptops that contain lithium batteries have attracted significant interest on Russian language websites and among Russian language twitter users. The Postal Service will ban shipping consumer electronic devices (i.e. smart phones, tablets, laptops, and hearing aids among other items) starting May 16th due to UPU and international aviation bans of shipping lithium ion batteries on commercial aircraft. The last day for standard airmail international shipments is this Friday, May 4. As private sector carriers, DHL, FedEx and United Parcel Service, are not subject to the band they will continue to handle these shipments internationally. However, using a private sector carrier significantly reduces the advantage of buying from U.S. merchants as it can double or triple shipping charges and reduce or eliminate the arbitrage that foriegn buyers take advantage of by buying from U.S. merchants and using an agent in the U.S. to represent them in the purchase so that they can buy with a U.S. address and U.S. credit card.
The foreign buyers take advantage of price differences that make the additional effort worthwhile.According to RioNovosti, in Russia, an unlocked iphone 4S would cost between $1,100 and $1,500. or at least fifty percent more than an idenical phone would cost in the United States. Bloomberg recently had report that compared price of an unlocked cked iPhone with 32gb of memory would cost in various countires and the report indicated that the cost in every countries was higher than what the price was in the United States and in places like Brazil, the price is twice than what the cost would be if purchased in the United States.
The ban will likely hurt a number of United States businesses that cater to indviduals and businesses interested in taking advantage of lower prices in the United States. Some of the largest firms in the business include:
- US Global Mail,
- Vpost.com ,
- Bongo International,
- Shipitto, and
The Postal Service’s note on the ban states that it should end by January 2013. The note indicates that the Postal Service is working with other organizations to end this ban sooner for electronic devices. However, the Postal Service does not indicate who these organizations are or the options that it is looking at to allow electronic devices that contain lithium batteries can be shipped internationally by the Postal Service.
Without further information, the Postal Service’s January 2013 date seems optimistic. The Universal Postal Union began working on the rule that bans lithium batteries in 2009 and passed a rule in the spring of 2010. The International Civil Aviation Authority approved the addition of the restricion by a vote of 106 in favor, three against and two abstentions. Reversing the restrictions would require changes in restrictions on lithium batteries must be circulating among voting members of the Universal Postal Union and Civil Aviation Authoirty now for voting in the next seven months.
Given the impact that the ban has on American businesses, the State Department, the Homeland Security Department, and the Postal Service must quickly explain in detail what they are doing to get this ban reversed.