Trading With China: Lessons From The Revolutionary Era

Who says that China sourcing is a twenty-first century phenomena (or even a twentieth century one, for that matter)? It turns out that the United States' trading relationship with China goes back to the founding of the republic. According to a quick little number in a regional Maine newspaper that I just finished reading, our "China trade began in 1784 shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War. Because Britain had blocked the Americans from trading with the British West Indies, tea was scarce. A group of investors led by a Philadelphia merchant sent a ship to the Chinese port city of Canton to trade for tea."

Because the "Americans made such hefty profits that other ships soon followed. One of the earliest ships, the Portland, built in 1796, traveled first to Europe to trade salted fish and wooden staves for wine and cash, before proceeding to the Far East. In 1844, after the British victory in the Opium Wars, a treaty opened several more Chinese ports to American vessels, and tea and luxury products became more readily available for American traders."

Today, materials with additional value added steps have become a far larger part of our import trade with China than basic commodities. But while they've replaced that humble cup of tea as their primary export, I find it ironic that our biggest exports to China are still just as addictive as they were hundreds of years ago. Granted, today it's Google and in the 19th century it was opium. But they're both addictive nonetheless!

Jason Busch

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