World Trade


Summary: The manufactured goods of the industrialized West and the raw materials used to produce them became a primary focus of world trade in the period between 1750 and 1900. In the Atlantic world, trade largely revolved around the plantation system and the economic exploitation of the newly independent nations of Latin America (see Chapter 23 ). Methods of extracting natural resources from subject nations changed as railroads and roads were constructed to transport raw materials from the interior of colonies to port areas for eventual transport to Europe. Instead of small, independent farm plots owned and cultivated by native peoples, large plantations arose to replace them. On these new agricultural units, native peoples of Africa, India, and Southeast Asia produced crops necessary to the industrialized nations of Europe.


Key Terms



Monroe Doctrine*

Opium War*

Qing dynasty

spheres of influence*

Suez Canal*

Tanzimet reforms*

Treaty of Nanking*

Wahhabi rebellion*

Young Turks*

Latin American Trade

The profitable sugar plantations of the Caribbean and Brazil were at the heart of Latin American trade with Europe. Brazil also produced cotton and cacao for European use, and during the late eighteenth century, its seaports were opened to world trade. Trade increased the importation of slaves to the Portuguese colony.

As Latin American independence movements drew to a close in the 1820s, the United States stepped forward to monitor future trade with its southern neighbors. The Monroe Doctrine (1823) announced the intention of the United States to maintain a “hands off” policy with regard to European colonization in the Americas. Great Britain already had trade agreements with the Spanish colonies since the eighteenth century. It now foresaw the newly independent Latin American republics as future trade partners and supported the Monroe Doctrine. A more active trade began with Britain trading manufactured goods to Latin America, especially Brazil, in exchange for raw materials. In the late nineteenth century, the United States, France, and other nations also traded with Latin America.

By the end of the nineteenth century, active trade was carried on in Cuban tobacco and sugar; Brazilian sugar and coffee; Mexican copper, silver, and henequen; Peruvian guano ; Chilean grain and copper; and Argentinian beef, grain, hides, and wool. Beef exports increased dramatically after the invention of the refrigerated railroad car in the late nineteenth century. Also in the late nineteenth century, as European nations established colonies and increased industrial production, demand for Latin American rubber, especially from Brazil, increased.

Large landholders who exported sugar and hides especially benefited from foreign trade, whereas local independent traders often had to compete with cheaper and better quality foreign goods. As a result, Latin America became increasingly dependent on the importation of foreign goods, whereas power and wealth concentrated in the hands of large landholders. Foreign investments provided Latin America with necessary capital but also with industry and transportation largely under foreign control. Global trade with the Americas increased after the Panama Canal opened in 1914.

Trade with the Islamic World

Although trade with Latin America increased markedly in the middle and latter years of the nineteenth century, foreign trade with the Ottoman Empire continued on a path of gradual decline. The empire was increasingly weakened by successful independence revolts of its subject peoples, including the Greeks in 1820 and the Serbs in 1867. In the early nineteenth century, the Wahhabi rebellion attempted to restore Ottoman strength by insisting upon a return to more traditional Islam and strict adherence to shariahlaw. Contributing to Ottoman weakness was the empire’s disinterest in industrialization, which led minority groups such as Christians and Jews within the Ottoman Empire to carry on their own trade with Western European nations for manufactured goods. The artisans who produced goods using the domestic system had difficulty competing with European imports.

The threat of European competition produced a wave of political and economic reform from 1839 to 1876 that opened the Ottoman Empire more to Western influence. The Tanzimet reforms facilitated trade, but they came too late to make sweeping changes in the Ottoman economy. Further reform efforts by the Young Turks failed to achieve permanent change. The corruption of later Ottoman rulers and decreased agricultural revenue took their toll. In return for foreign loans to bolster its faltering economy, the Ottoman Empire was made economically dependent on European imports and influence. Europeans were granted the privilege of extraterritoriality , which allowed Europeans in Ottoman commercial centers to live according to their own laws rather than those of the Ottomans.

Egyptian commerce also suffered from European competition. Muhammad Ali’s insistence on increasing cotton production diverted farmers from grain production and made Egypt dependent on the export of a single crop. A decline in the price of cotton worldwide could have devastated the Egyptian economy. By 1869, however, Egyptian trade strengthened because a canal opened across the Isthmus of Suez. Connecting the Mediterranean and Red seas, the Suez Canal made Egypt a significant commercial and political power between Europe and its colonies in Africa and Asia.

Qing China and the Opium Trade

In 1644, the weakened Ming dynasty was overtaken by the Manchus, a largely nomadic people who lived north of the Great Wall. The new dynasty, calling itself Qing , lifted Ming restrictions against foreign travel. Chinese merchants took an increasingly active part in overseas trade, and foreign merchants traded with China through the port of Canton. Trade in Chinese tea, silk, and porcelain brought in large quantities of silver, which was the basis of the Chinese economy. By the nineteenth century, international trade based in southern China was especially profitable.

One of China’s chief trading partners, Great Britain, became increasingly concerned over having to pay large amounts of silver for Chinese luxury goods. British merchants solved the trade imbalance by trading Indian opium to China. Indian opium, which was of a higher quality than Chinese-grown opium, took such a hold on Chinese society that soon the Chinese were forced to pay for the product with large quantities of their silver. In addition to this trade reversal, millions of Chinese became addicted to opium, a situation that affected work and family responsibilities. When the Qing emperor took measures to block the opium trade, war broke out in 1839 between China and Great Britain. British victory in the Opium War and another conflict in the 1850s resulted in the opening of China to European trade. The Treaty of Nanking (1842) that ended the Opium War made Hong Kong a British colony and opened up five ports to foreign commerce instead of only the port of Canton. Opium continued to flow into China. By 1900, more than ninety ports were open to foreign trade. Foreign spheres of influence were drawn up in China; within these territories, the controlling nation enjoyed special trade privileges as well as the right of extraterritoriality.

Russia and World Trade

Russia continued to occupy a backward position in trade and technology. The Russians exported some grain to western Europe in exchange for Western machinery. By 1861, the desire to compete with Western nations in world trade prompted Russia to emancipate its serfs. Still, Russia lagged behind in export crops as the emancipation of the serfs left a labor force that used outdated agricultural methods.

Japanese Entrance into World Trade

The second Perry expedition to Japan in 1854 opened two ports to trade with the United States. Later, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and Russia initiated trade relations with Japan. As Japan industrialized, it depended on imports of Western equipment and raw materials, especially coal.

End of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

The combination of Enlightenment thought, religious conviction, and a slave revolt in Haiti led to the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The British ended their participation in the slave trade in 1807, then worked to get the cooperation of other slave importers to the Americas to end their part in the slave trade. While Britain seized hundreds of slave ships, Cuba and Brazil, with the cooperation of African rulers, continued to import huge numbers of slaves. The trans-Atlantic slave trade did not end until 1867.

Images Rapid Review

Although the trade in human beings across the Atlantic was coming to an end, other avenues of trade appeared worldwide. Latin America, Russia, the Islamic world, and Japan developed an increased dependency on Western technology. China saw its favorable balance of trade reversed as its silver supply was diminished to purchase Indian opium from Great Britain. By the beginning of the twentieth century, European products dominated global trade routes.

Images Review Questions

1 .    As a result of the Opium War

      (A)  the Qing dynasty overtook the Ming

      (B)  Great Britain acquired Hong Kong

      (C)  the Chinese silver supply was restored

      (D)  the importation of opium to China increased

2 .    The end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade

      (A)  was resisted by Great Britain

      (B)  received widespread support of African kings

      (C)  began with Brazil

      (D)  occurred about the same time as the emancipation of Russian serfs

3 .    The country least dependent on Western technology in the early nineteenth century was

      (A)  the Ottoman Empire

      (B)  Japan

      (C)  Russia

      (D)  China

4 .    As a result of Latin America’s trade relationship with the United States and Great Britain,

      (A)  Latin America became dependent on U.S. and European manufactured goods

      (B)  Latin America began to industrialize

      (C)  local independent trade flourished in Latin America

      (D)  land was redistributed

5 .    The Ottoman Empire

      (A)  refused to accept foreign loans

      (B)  resisted economic reforms

      (C)  supported policies that benefited local artisans

      (D)  saw trade between non-Muslims and European merchants

6 .    Egyptian trade

      (A)  was dependent on the exportation of a single crop

      (B)  did not suffer from competition with Europe

      (C)  improved as a result of Muhammad Ali’s policies

      (D)  weakened after the opening of the Suez Canal

7 .    Latin American trade

      (A)  decreased after the 1820s

      (B)  caused Great Britain to support the Monroe Doctrine

      (C)  depended on the increased slave trade of the late nineteenth century

      (D)  relied on exports of manufactured goods

8 .    World trade in the period 1750 to 1900

      (A)  brought greater prosperity to China than to the West

      (B)  decreased the economic power of the West

      (C)  strengthened Latin America’s trade position

      (D)  benefited Western colonial powers

Images Answers and Explanations

1 .   B   The Treaty of Nanking (1842) made Hong Kong a British colony. The Qing overtook the Ming in 1644, while the Opium War occurred between 1839 and 1842 (A). China’s silver supply was drained to purchase opium (C) and was not immediately restored since the opium trade continued after the war (D).

2 .   D   Both ended in the 1860s. Great Britain initiated the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and sought the cooperation of other slave importers to the Americas to end their part in the slave trade (A). Brazil continued to support the slave trade (C) with the approval of many African kings (B).

3 .   D   China continued to resist the intrusion of Western technology, whereas the Ottoman Empire (A) became increasingly dependent on it. After the Meiji restoration, Japan depended on Western technology, sending students to the West to learn of its use (B). Russia purchased machinery from the West (C).

4 .   A   The United States and Europe encouraged Latin America to provide them with raw materials rather than build factories (B), a situation that kept Latin America dependent on U.S. and European manufactured goods. Local traders were forced to compete with less expensive imports (C). Land remained in the hands of a few large landholders (D), who benefited the most from the wealth brought in by trade.

5 .   D   Most European trade carried on within the Ottoman Empire was on the part of Jewish and Christian merchants. The Ottoman Empire accepted some loans from the West (A) in spite of enacting some economic reforms within the empire (B). Local artisans suffered because of the influx of better and less expensive European goods (C).

6 .   A   Egyptian trade depended on the exportation of cotton. It suffered because of the influx of European goods (B). Muhammad Ali’s insistence on a single cash crop hindered Egyptian trade (C). Trade improved after the opening of the Suez Canal (D).

7 .   B   Great Britain supported the Monroe Doctrine to improve its relations with Latin America so that it could actively trade with the Latin American nations. Latin American trade increased after the independence movements of the 1820s (A). The slave trade ended in the late nineteenth century (C). Latin American nations imported manufactured goods (D).

8 .   D   Much of world trade in this period benefited Western colonial powers, who imposed their manufactured goods on the developing world, increasing the economic power of the West (B). China suffered an outflow of silver because of the opium trade (A). Latin America became dependent on U.S. and European manufactured goods (C).

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