Major Global Trade Routes, 1400-1800

Major Global Trade Routes, 1400-1800

From the 15th to the 19th century, a pattern of global trade flows emerged, mainly based on mercantilism. For centuries, China, India, and Southeast Asia have been the origin of trade flows dominated by luxury goods (spices, silk, tea, porcelain, etc.). This involved a positive capital flow as their trading partners did not have much to offer in exchange except cash (gold or silver). This pattern was strongly influenced by the fact that China and India accounted for about half of the world’s GDP during that period.

The colonial involvement of Western European countries, starting in the 16th century, created new trade flows and resulted in European control of existing trade routes (especially the Asia trade). For instance, Spain and Portugal, the first European maritime powers, controlled much of the global flows in the 16th century through a colonial system. The first transoceanic long-distance trade networks in history were established.

Global trade significantly changed in the 19th century when India was incorporated into the British Empire and when the Mexican War of Independence (1815) ended the Manila trade through Mexico. The lucrative Chinese trade fell in the hands of emerging Western colonial powers (England, France, United States) through the setting of treaty ports (e.g. Shanghai) and Southeast Asia was more intensively colonized (Dutch, English, French, and Spain). In the late 19th century, the scramble for Africa would result in the geopolitical fragmentation of the continent.