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Early Modern Examples of Export-Led Growth


Kanakalatha Mukund


By Om Prakash
Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 426, Rs. 850.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 10 October 2004

This book offers, in one volume, a collection of articles by the economic historian, Om Prakash, written originally over a span of nearly four decades, from 1964 to 2002. As the title clearly indicates, the contributions in the book are centred around three interlinked themes: the traditional trade of the Indian Ocean region in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the arrival of the Europeans and their entry into this self-contained trading world, and the role impact of the bullion imported into India on the local economy.   Towards the end of the fifteenth century, Indian Ocean trade was divided into three segments—the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, and West of Malacca. The Arab traders had begun to limit themselves to the coastal trade along the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, down to the West coast of India. The Chinese stopped their shipping ventures in the South China Sea, West of Malacca. The merchants of Malaya and Indonesia confined themselves to coastal trade over short distances. Dominating the trade were the merchants from both the West and East coasts of India who were active in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, up to Malacca and the Indonesian islands.   India’s centrality in this trade was not just a matter of its strategic geographic location as a large landmass in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It was also the largest supplier of manufactured goods, especially textiles, to all the countries in the region from East Africa in the West to Malacca and Indonesia in the East, catering to all segments of the market, from finest varieties for the elite, upper classes to coarse goods for mass consumption. In addition, India also produced and exported a variety of foodgrains, oils and raw materials like cotton and indigo. In return, a variety of products like spices, dyes and precious stones, horses and elephants and tin were imported. But this left a balance favourable to India, which was met by precious metals, especially silver which was imported from West Asia via Mocha, the port which was referred to as the “treasure-chest” of the Mughal empire.   The discovery of the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope signalled the entry of Europeans into this self-sustaining trade regime. This, says Om Prakash, marked the transition to the early modern world economy, fuelled also by the discovery of America and the silver ...


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