How have historical events effected trade over the years? See our brief timeline of international trade to learn about how trade has been transformed.

A Timeline of International Trade

How have historical events affected trade over the years? See our brief timeline of international trade to learn about how trade has been transformed.

From the Great Recession to the 2018/2019 Trade War with China, the state of international trade is stagnating after a large period of growth. For the past 200 years, international trade has developed into a worldwide system of imports and exports. It is important to look back and review the economic trends and historical events which have affected international trade.

The History of International Trade

To help make sense of it all, here is a quick timeline of international trade beginning in the early 19th century:

  • 1830 – 1870: This was the first true period of globalization. Openness increased and trade flowed between countries. Inventions such as the steamship and the telegraph changed the way trade was conducted.
  • 1870 – 1913: Trade broadly stagnated during the decades leading up to the First World War. International exports were relatively even across continents at this time. The creation of the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal opened the entire globe to trade.
  • 1913 – 1918: World War I put a halt on international trade growth. The war all across the world led to a decrease in globalization which lasted until after WWII.
  • 1918-1929: From the signing to the Treaty of Versailles to the Great Depression, trade recovered from the wartime shock.
  • 1929 – 1938: During the Great Depression Europe lost more than the rest of the world. Lesser countries gained more economic traction in international trade, including Japan. More than one-third of trade stopped during the depression.
  • 1938-1945: World War II put a halt to international trade while sides were drawn. The end of the war resulted in superpowers with the ability to control the market.
  • 1950 – 1973: The ‘Golden Age’ was the rebound of the international economy following the World Wars and the Great Depression. The end of the war left superpowers such as the United States and the Soviet Union with a trade advantage. Europe bounced back to its previous dominance in trade along with the United States. In 1972 North West Europe and the US accounted for over half of world exports.
  • 1973 – 1975: The Oil Crisis and the recession during these years put a halt to the expansion following WWII.
  • 1975 – 2007: Following the recession the international trade community experienced an unstoppable growth in trade ending in the Great Recession. Asia’s share in international trade grew from 1/6 to 1/3.
  • 2007 – Present: It appears the nearly 40 year period of growth has come to a halt and the openness of the world’s economy has been stagnant. The Trade War is lowering expectations for the future. Some may even compare this to a pre-WWI state of international trade.

This timeline of international trade shows how major historical events have affected trade and how large periods of globalization have expanded trade. For more information about the current trade war, subscribe to TRG’s YouTube channel for webinars and videos covering the most recent news.

Get access to TRG's full library of free resources for U.S. Importers in the Resource Hub.

Historyinternational tradeTrade War

Chase Samuels • October 3, 2019

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