Portuguese Trade and International Relations

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Portuguese Trade and International Relations

Portugal was the major European commercial power in the Far East in the sixteenth century, and its Estado da India trading company operated throughout the Indian Ocean basin. Increased competition in the region, combined with vastly profitable sugarcane cultivation in Brazil led to Portugal's redoubled efforts in Brazil and a subsequent significant withdrawal from India in the period from 1580 to 1620. Consequently, the Portuguese reorganized the empire as their commercial and maritime power waned in the East; the East, however, never ceased growing in economic strength.

Portugal established the capital of its Asian empire at Goa, an ancient Hindu port on the Arabian Sea, in 1510. The Portuguese aim was to control the pepper trade of south India, the spice trade of the Moluccas, the sandalwood trade of Timor, and the coastal trade of western India and the northern areas of the Indian Ocean via the cartaz passport system, whereby Asian traders were forced to call at Portuguese ports to pay duties and to trade. Controlling trade enabled the Portuguese to seriously weaken the Muslim monopoly of spices. Asian products went from Goa to Lisbon, where the goods cleared the Casa da India (the institution controlling duties, running warehouses, and directing overseas voyages). Control of Asian commerce rested on Portuguese supremacy at Daman, Diu, Hormuz, and Aden, as well as at Malacca and the Spice Islands. Portugal failed to control Aden in 1551 and lost Hormuz in 1622; Holland seized the Moluccas in 1612, Malacca in 1641, Sri Lanka in 1658, and Cochin in 1663; and England gained Bombay via a royal dowry to Charles II in 1661. The Marathas conquered most Portuguese northern Indian provinces in 1739. Moreover, the Hindu Saraswat Brahmans in Goa and the Banyans throughout Portuguese India easily dominated economic life from early in the sixteenth century. Consequently, Portuguese trade declined sharply in the East after 1620.

In the eighteenth century, Goa, Daman, and Diu maintained close commercial ties with Mozambique through exports of Indian cotton cloth and imports of ivory, gold, and slaves. From 1759, when the captain-generalship of Mozambique was established, until 1818, the area was under the jurisdiction of Goa. The slave trade from Mozambique to Portuguese India ended in the 1830s. Slavers, however, found expanding markets in Brazil to 1850, and in the French islands of the Indian Ocean until the 1880s.

The annual ship linking Lisbon and Goa often stopped in Bahia between the early sixteenth century and the 1830s. After 1783, there was a commercial renaissance because of the crown's semifree trade policy between selected Indian Ocean ports and Lisbon and because of Portuguese neutrality in the Anglo-French conflicts from the 1790s to 1815. After 1808, ships sailed directly to Brazil from the East. Brazilian gold and tobacco and reexported Spanish silver went from Brazil to Goa, while Indian cotton textiles entered Europe, Brazil, La Plata, and Africa. This Indo-Brazilian trade ended in the late 1820s. During the Napoleonic conflicts the British stationed troops in all Portuguese-Asian enclaves except Timor, for varying periods from 1799 to 1815. In addition, a conflict between the Catholic Saraswat Brahmans and the Portuguese over the issues of social position and racial prejudice in Goa flared in the Pinto Revolt of 1787. Forty-seven Goans died and many went to prison or exile. This revolt influenced crown administrators to adopt enlightened policies toward the rebels in the uprising in Minas Gerais, Brazil, in 1789. Declining Indian textile exports were offset by increased sales of opium to the Far East and silver from Guangdong (Canton) and Macau going to India.

Macau served as the transfer agent for Chinese silks and Japanese silver from 1560 to the 1630s. Prior to 1770, silk and porcelain went from Macau and China via Manila to Acapulco for Mexican silver. From the 1780s to the 1830s significant quantities of silver entered Macau from the Philippines but there are few indications of silk and porcelain exports to Manila; consequently, there probably existed direct trade from Guangdong to Manila. Impressive quantities of silver also entered India from China due to the opium trade. Opium exports from India to Macau were largely from Calcutta prior to 1805. After 1815, western India, especially Bombay and Daman, sent the bulk of the opium, called "malwa," to Macau and Guangdong. Legal opium shipments peaked at six thousand chests in 1836. The opium trade on Portuguese ships to Macau was controlled by Hindus, Muslims, Sindis, and Parsees, while only a small percentage was Portuguese. Portuguese India also sent raw cotton, sandalwood, and pepper to the Far East. Trade and commerce in the Portuguese eastern empire was perhaps 50 percent of Luso-Brazilian trade from 1780 to 1822.

British interests continued to dominate Portuguese-Indian foreign trade after 1800. Trade between India and Brazil declined precipitously in the 1820s. The substitution of Virginia for Bahia in supplying the tobacco monopoly of Portuguese India signified the closing of commercial links between Brazil and Goa in the 1830s. Trade between India and Latin America has been severely limited in the twentieth century. Since World War II, Goan ore exports have competed with Latin American suppliers. However, the levels of trade between India and Brazil picked up dramatically at the end of the twentieth century. In 2000 trade was valued at $488 million but jumped to $2 billion by 2006. Moreover, India has begun negotiations to create free trade areas with South American countries.

See alsoGoa and Portuguese Asia; Portugal; Portuguese Empire; Portuguese in Latin America.


Charles R. Boxer, Fidalgos in the Far East: 1550–1770 (1968), and Four Centuries of Portuguese Expansion, 1415–1825: A Succinct Survey (1969).

Anthony R. Disney, Twilight of the Pepper Empire: Portuguese Trade in Southwest India in the Early Seventeenth Century (1978).

Teotonio R. De Souza, Medieval Goa: A Socio-Economic History (1979).

Charles R. Boxer, Portuguese India in the Mid-Seventeenth Century (1980).

Rudy Bauss, "A Legacy of British Free Trade Policies: The End of Trade and Commerce Between India and the Portuguese Empire, 1780–1830," in Calcutta Historical Journal 6, no. 2 (1982): 81-115.

Michael N. Pearson, The Portuguese in India, vol. 1 of The New Cambridge History of India (1988).

Sanjay Subrahmanyam, The Political Economy of Commerce: Southern India, 1500–1650 (1990), and The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500–1700: A Political and Economic History (1993).

Additional Bibliography

Ahmed, Afzal. Portuguese Trade and Socio-Economic Changes on the Western Coast of India, 1600–1663. Delhi: Originals, 2000.

Miller, Shawn William. Fruitless Trees: Portuguese Conservation and Brazil's Colonial Timber. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Pedreira, Jorge Miguel Viana. Estrutura industrial e mercado colonial: Portugal e Brasil (1780–1830). Lisbon: DIFEL, 1994.

Topik, Steven; Carlos Marichal; and Zephyr Frank, eds. From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500–2000. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

                                          Rudy Bauss

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