The economic history of the Pacific

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In the three centuries after Vasco da Gama made the first direct voyage from Europe to India in 1499, the value of world trade grew by 1 per cent per annum. This was achieved in spite of political barriers and trading monopolies that stifled trade. After 1800 these restrictions were reduced by falling transport costs, technological change and the use of force - explicit and implied - to open markets. For European trading nations, import demand - domestic demand minus domestic supply - was increased by economic growth, the need for raw materials for industrial production and shifts in income distribution that favoured the importation of ‘exotic’ luxuries. For non-European trading regions, export supply - the level of supply minus domestic demand - was increased by population growth, greater mobility of capital and labour, productivity improvements and the settlement of previously unexploited frontiers. As a result, world trade boomed, growing at 3.7 per cent per annum between 1800 and 1992. The growth in transpacific trade was a key feature of the world economy after the Second World War. In 1965 the value of this trade was 59 per cent of that of transatlantic trade (between Europe and the United States and Asia); by 1985 the figure was 124 per cent. In this essay on the economic history of the Pacific, the focus is on demand and supply shifts and the removal of obstructions to trade in three countries: China, Japan and the USA. The essay is geographically selective, with less attention paid to other regions of the Pacific - the Pacific coast of Latin America, the rest of Asia, Pacific Russia, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - that were affected by forces of economic and political change emanating from the Pacific’s major powers. In 1750, China and Japan’s total population was 244 million - almost double that of Europe (140 million) and around 86 per cent of the total population of the Pacific region.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge World History. Volume VII: Production, Destruction, and Connection, 1750-Present. Part I: Structures, Spaces, and Boundary Making
EditorsJ R McNeill, Kenneth Pomeranz
Place of PublicationCambridge UK
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781139196079
ISBN (Print)9781107000209
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015

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