I ordered a piece of my Halloween costume from China. The shipping was paltry for something that needs an International flight to reach me. A recent Planet Money segment from NPR sheds some light on why the fees are so low.
"China delivers a lot of small packages to the United States. But under current agreements, it doesn't send much stamp money to the U.S. to pay for our postal trucks and our mail carriers. That's why you can order a tiny adapter from Shanghai and only get charged a few bucks for delivery. In fact, U.S. companies like Amazon have complained that the U.S. postal system is essentially subsidizing Chinese shipping." -Robert Smith, of the Planet Money team. You can read the whole transcript or listen to the audio here. It's a short piece, but clear and thought provoking.
This is where the Universal Postal Union comes in. It used to be that mail to and fro was less one-sided. It was assumed that the resources one country expended handling another country's mail would be recouped in the reply. Nowadays, they have big regulatory meetings to decide who gets what portion of that $1.15 stamp used to send your letter to Jakarta, or Istanbul, or Vancouver. China's discount will be going to just 50% come 2020. That seems more fair. I'm glad I don't have to crunch the numbers to decide these things.