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British textile exports to the southern cone during the first half of the nineteen century: growth, structure and the marketing chain

By Manuel Llorca


The historiography of economic relationships between Britain and the Southern Cone\ud during the first half of the nineteenth century largely ignores trade. Yet, neither\ud British direct, nor portfolio, investment was important during this period, when the\ud main gains arose from trade, and directly associated invisible earnings: credits,\ud shipping freights and insurance. British exports have long been taken for granted to\ud the extent that there are no specific considerations of textile exports to Latin America.\ud Between 1815 and 1859, textiles comprised over 80 per cent of British exports to the\ud Southern Cone. This thesis considers in detail the process by which textiles were\ud transferred from British manufacturers to local wholesalers. The various relationships\ud between manufacturers, merchants, ship-brokers, underwriters and mercantile houses\ud are assessed and analysed. New light is thrown on the relative roles of the\ud consignment system and own account operations, advances against consignments,\ud marine insurances, return remittances, commissions and fees, shipping strategies,\ud packing, and on the use and management of samples and pattern books.\ud Along with a lack of awareness of how British textiles were exported, little was\ud known about the actual growth of Britain’s exports to this region. The picture painted\ud by the historiography, which lacked robust data, was that early exports glutted the\ud markets. It has been maintained that, thereafter, the small, low-income and scattered\ud rural population of the Southern Cone had little to offer in exchange. Furthermore, it\ud has also been put forward that high internal transport costs made this former\ud backwater of the Spanish Empire nothing but a marginal market. This view considers\ud the Southern Cone solely ‘responsible’ for the supposedly low volume of British\ud exports. Post-1860s developments – railways and European migration on a sizeable\ud scale – are regarded as being responsible for the growth of exports.\ud This simplistic yet well-rooted approach is challenged. There was nothing exceptional\ud in the development of the value of British exports to this market. When measured by\ud volume, textiles exported by Britain to the Southern Cone expanded continuously\ud throughout the 1820s, 1830s and 1840s and at very high rates, in particular, if per\ud capita consumption is considered. Apart from the factors considered in the\ud historiography, an explanation of the Southern Cone’s increasing absorption of British\ud manufactures from the 1820s requires an examination of other local conditions as\ud well as the changing situation in Britain, namely: improvements in packing of textiles;\ud falling costs of productions in Britain; falling ocean freight rates; falling marine\ud insurances; introduction of free trade in Britain; dramatic improvements in\ud communications; falling import duties on the spot; better port facilities; struggle of\ud local craft industries; and the establishment of a more stable political system on the\ud spot

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2009
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