Discussion paper

DP18889 International trade: Commodity production and markets in Southeast Asia (1800-2020)

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, global trade increased dramatically: between 1816 and 1914 trade grew between 3 and 4 percent per annum, compared with about 1 percent annual trade growth in preceding centuries. Southeast Asian commodity production for the global economy boomed: exports from the region increased 14-fold across that same period. The growth of trade led in some parts of the region to greater coercion of labour and the restructuring of land ownership, but it also allowed for the growth of capital investment and increasing incomes. This chapter shows how Southeast Asian economies responded to changes in global demand for the commodities over time. It demonstrates that agricultural production systems for commodities differed across time and space, and were shaped by crop characteristics in terms of inputs needed in the production process, state policies and local conditions. These production systems consequently determined the distributional consequences of trade. Yet opportunities for sustained growth were limited with agricultural exports, and it was mainly with the rise of textile manufacturing that allowed more consistent rises in income.


de Zwart, P (2024), ‘DP18889 International trade: Commodity production and markets in Southeast Asia (1800-2020)‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 18889. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp18889