UNITED NATIONS - A new global strategy aimed at improving and harmonizing the world's postal services is the focus of a three-week congress in Geneva led by the United Nations Universal Postal Union (UPU) which began on Tuesday. "The development gaps that separate the postal services of industrialized and developing countries at a worldwide level must be reduced for citizens and businesses to better participate in international trade," Edouard Dayan, UPU Director General, told reporters, according to a transcript issued at UN Headquarters in New York. According to Dayan, member countries will need to firmly commit to modernizing their postal networks to meet their social and economic development objectives. "Far from being obsolete, postal services are still alive and well," he said, adding that e-mail and the Internet had not rung the death knell for them. "On the contrary, all means of communication complement each other, and the postal sector in this era of the Internet and online commerce has never played a more important role in today's commercial trade." More than 2,200 participants from the UPU's 191 member countries are taking part in the congress which is held every four years. The UPU says there are still many challenges facing the world's postal systems. Some three per cent of the global population do not have access to basic postal services " a figure which rises as high as 12 per cent in Africa. In addition, national postal operators are currently delivering 57 per cent of international letters in less than five business days, lagging behind the target of 68 per cent set for this year at the last congress in Bucharest in 2004. According to the UPU, many countries must also make the transition towards offering more secure and faster electronic money transfers to replace the more than a century-old paper money order, which would meet the urgent needs of the market, especially of migrant workers. Among other things, delegates to the congress will be called on to adopt an international treaty committing countries to providing secure and accessible electronic money transfers. A new multilateral framework is already facilitating such transfers, with 130 countries currently signatories to the arrangement. Delegates will also be asked to adopt a new global monitoring system for the quality of services and a new approach to covering countries' costs for processing mail sent from other nations. The world's postal services employ more than 5.5 million people, according to the UPU. They process 439 billion letters annually, which generate 52 per cent of global postal revenues, as well as 6 billion parcels, a volume which is increasing.