The Economic History Review

Breaking free? The evolution of intra-Asian trade at the dawn of globalization (1795–1839)

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Authors: Alejandro Ayuso-Diaz
Published online: April 29, 2024DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13350

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This article contributes to the scholarly discourse on the repercussions of trade liberalization in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that contributed to early globalization, offering a perspective that extends beyond the traditional focus on Atlantic economies. Our study centres on East and Southeast Asia, pivotal in Pacific and Indian Ocean trade. We overcome data scarcity by presenting a new, partner-disaggregated imports dataset spanning 10 ports across the region from 1795 to 1839. Employing a gravity model and incorporating interactions, we assess the degree of intra-Asian trade and its evolution following key events that liberalized East and Southeast Asian commerce in a period when measurable global integration started to become apparent. Supporting new Asian scholarship, our results highlight the remarkable intra-Asian trade before the high colonial era. We also show that, in general, colonial trade policies fostering inter-continental trade disproportionately augmented colonial imports in East and Southeast Asia, eclipsing gains in intra-Asian or Pacific trade, especially before 1830. We explore the impact of the influx of British textiles in the region as a mechanism to explain these trends. Our study illuminates complex trade dynamics in East and Southeast Asia during a transformative period of measurable global integration.