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Flexibility and protectionism. Swedish trade in sugar during the early modern era


  • Rönnbäck, Klas

    () (Department of Economic History, School of Business, Economics and Law, Göteborg University)


Sugar was of the utmost importance for the development of a transatlantic trade during the early modern era. This working paper explores the impact of institutions and institutional changes of the colonial trade in sugar focusing on one country on the European semi-periphery, namely Sweden. Through protectionist policies, Swedish merchants were able to catch a significant share of the Baltic trade in colonial goods, despite the country having no colonies of its own. This in turn enabled a diversification of the sources of colonial goods. Trade in sugar became highly flexible during the period, rapidly changing in response to a changing international market. Protectionist policies also enabled the development of a domestic sugar manufacture, which flourished during the late 18th and early 19th century. When Swedish trade policy was liberalized around the 1850s, the domestic industry went through hard times from the international competition. The introduction of sugar beet would however have even more far-reaching consequences for the international trade in sugar. Swedish sugar imports collapsed by more than 98 per cent in less than ten years when domestic production of sugar beet had gotten off to a start at the end of the 19th century. The preliminary conclusions form the first output from the work on a thesis concerned with the trade in colonial goods of actors in the European semi-periphery. One future aim is to compare the colonial trade in sugar of Sweden and Denmark.

Suggested Citation

  • Rönnbäck, Klas, 2006. "Flexibility and protectionism. Swedish trade in sugar during the early modern era," Göteborg Papers in Economic History 4, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:gunhis:0004
    Note: To be published in report from conference “Varudistribution och marknadsintegrering på randen till industrisamhället”, Gothenburg, February 2006

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dahlman, Carl J, 1979. "The Problem of Externality," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 22(1), pages 141-162, April.
    2. Stefano Fenoaltea, 1988. "Transaction Costs, Whig History, and the Common Fields," Politics & Society, , vol. 16(2-3), pages 171-240, June.
    3. Stevenson,Glenn G., 1991. "Common Property Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521384414, March.
    4. Eggertsson,Thrainn, 1990. "Economic Behavior and Institutions," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521348911, March.
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    More about this item


    Economic History; Mercantilism; Protectionism; Colonialism; Colonial trade; Transatlantic trade; Colonial goods; Sugar; Sweden;

    JEL classification:

    • F13 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations
    • F54 - International Economics - - International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy - - - Colonialism; Imperialism; Postcolonialism
    • N43 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N73 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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