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New platform for analysing global trade in the last two centuries


Researchers for the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), in collaboration with the University of Pisa (Italy), have created an interactive geo-referenced database which is able to analyse global trade in the last two centuries. Thanks to this new platform it is possible to more accurately assign a date to the first economic globalisation, which occurred much earlier than previously thought: in the 1830s.

Barco de mercancías. Créditos: UC3M

This new web platform, called Federico-Tena World Trade Historical Database, collects information about imports and exports from 140 countries from every continent from 1800 to 1938. This new data considerably improves previous studies and enables accurate historical continuity to current United Nations estimations, which contain data from 1948 to the present day.

“The available databases of global trade mainly included the developed world and were inevitably out-dated, because they failed to take into account the research about foreign trade in the last thirty years. In contrast, our database uses all recent research regarding the topic and includes almost all political entities (independent countries and colonies) in the world after 1850”, explains Antonio Tena, professor in the Social Sciences department at UC3M.

This new database systematically collects statistics from developing companies for the first time. These statistics were obtained thanks to the study of new sources or through individualised reconstruction with different methodologies. This enables these countries to be incorporated in the study of the growth of international imports and exports and, therefore, the trade globalisation trends in the past. In addition, incorporating this information in a hyper-connected world map facilitates intuitive and accessible access to the series of data by countries.

Analysis of economic globalisation

The comparison of trade globalisation by individual political entities, regions, trade blocs or development level enables the analyse of the relation between globalisation and economic growth in the long term. “With this new platform you can compare the first globalisation with the current one to analyse the speed of global trade or the amount of production which is moved    as in international trade both by continents and by development level,” states Antonio Tena.

From a historical point of view, specialists speak of a first globalisation before the First World War, a period of disintegration of global trade between the wars and a second globalisation which started after the Second World War (which has continued until now). In fact, some specialists speak about a “hyper-globalisation” which has occurred in the last 20 years, since the 1990s.

“A new feature is that this new database is able to assign a date to the start of the trade globalisation,” explains Antonio Tena. That is, it is able to start to more accurately define when this trade globalisation at the start of the nineteenth century started to accelerate. According to the first results that have observed, it would be before previously thought. “The international trade acceleration would have begun in the 1830s, which is nearly four decades before economic historians traditionally thought,” notes professor Antonio Tena.

This research, which has been developed throughout the last decade, was financed by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Competitiveness and Research (MCI:ECO 2011-25713 and MCI:ECO 2015/00209/001) and the European Union, through a ERC project (GA 230484) awarded to researcher Giovanni Federico. In addition, the Library Service at UC3M, through their work supporting research, has collaborated on the website version and on the data warehouse in the e-cienciaDatos repository, within the Open Data movement.

More information:

Federico-Tena World Trade Historical Database (noticia en chino/chinese version)