When we speak of New Spain and its relations with the world, we refer to the commercial structure that Spain established after having colonized the territories of America. The intention of the Spanish Empire was to protect its colonies through the application of restrictions related to trade and navigation.
The sea routes were controlled by Spain; This country promoted trade relations with various European nations such as France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, but strongly restricted the channels of trade, in order to ensure and maintain its monopoly in America.
Through these actions, Spain managed to maintain a commercial monopoly in the New World area; However, in the long term it was a wrong strategy for the country that brought negative consequences in terms of the development of its production processes.
This is explained because Spain ended up depending to a great extent on the resources it obtained from America, while the other European nations embarked on manufacturing projects that contributed to the economic development of those countries.
Spain’s participation in the world market was as a buyer rather than as a producer, and this meant a delay in its development in the industrial sphere.
Once America was discovered, a more or less free and irregular trade began to develop between the New World and Spain. There was still no awareness of the great relevance of the commercial activity and the routes were not being taken full advantage of.
At that time, at the beginning of the 16th century, there were many attacks on ships and many shipwrecks, as navigation was not under any regulation and could be dangerous.
As a result of these events, in 1561 rules governing navigation began to be promulgated. Among the considerations taken into account, the obligation to arm the fleets, a regulation regarding the size of the ships and the use of warships with the aim of escorting the transferred goods stood out.
The regulatory system became more sophisticated over time and two main fleets were created: one that made the Veracruz-Seville route and the other that arrived in Panama. These fleets remained in operation until the 8th century.
In 1778 there was an adjustment in the commercial situation and the American Free Trade Regulation was promulgated, through which the fleets were closed and it was the Council of the Indies (through the Casa de Contratación) that decided which fleet would leave and when did it.
This implied a limitation to trade that was strongly damaging the inhabitants of America, who on many occasions were not supplied regularly to generate shortages and to raise prices.
Another element stipulated in the new regulation indicated that all the ships in the fleets had to be Spanish.
In addition, the goods were examined in detail when they left and when they arrived at the port; Among other considerations, the nationality of the shipowners was verified as well as the state in which the ships were.
As we have commented previously, all these limitations eventually played against Spain, which became increasingly dependent on the wealth of America and did not maintain its focus on developing as a producer in the industrial sphere.
The trade between Spain and America put Seville in a privileged place on the planet. Although this port was already relevant before the discovery of the New World, it was after this milestone that Seville gained much more importance in the commercial sphere thanks to its port.
The reason for choosing Seville as the main port was the fact that it was in a more protected location than other ports in the area. It was an inland port that was located about 100 kilometers from the sea, a distance that protected it from possible pirate attacks or attacks perpetrated by other nations.
Added to this strategic location is the fact that the tradition of Seville as a port dates back to ancient times, so this area had the experience required to carry out commercial processes in this area.
However, despite the many advantages of the port of Seville, there were also drawbacks generated by the nature of the route.
For example, the last meters of the road were rough and shallow, which is why it was not possible for ships of more than 400 tons to pass through. As a result of these characteristics, many ships were wrecked in their attempt to enter the port of Seville.
Urdaneta or Pacific Route
This route was also called the tornaviaje and was discovered by the soldier and sailor Andrés de Urdaneta on behalf of Felipe II.
Through this route, which crossed the Pacific Ocean, Asia and America were united, as the connection was made between the New World and the Philippines.
The operation was carried out incognito because these actions contradicted what was stated in the Treaty of Tordesillas, through which Spain and Portugal had divided up the territories of America.
The fleet that transited the Urdaneta route was called the Manila Galleon and the main product of Spanish exchange was silver, which was exchanged for products of oriental elaboration.
This trade route was so important that it remained in force for two centuries later, when steamships appeared.
Veracruz-Seville or Atlantic Route
The galleons left from the Gulf of Mexico and these transported various products, among which gold, silver, precious gems, cocoa and spices stood out.
The set of ships that developed these trips was called the New Spain Fleet. They mainly left from Veracruz, although they also loaded from Honduras, Cuba, Panama and Hispaniola. On their way to Spain they crossed the Bermuda Islands and the Azores.
The port where the ships arrived was called Nombre de Dios and it was located on the Isthmus of Panama. The Fleet of the Galleons of Tierra Firme was in charge of traveling this way.
By means of this route the entire isthmus of Panama was crossed, then the ships passed through the capital of Cuba and from there they embarked directly to Spain.
The main activities carried out between New Spain and the rest of the world were framed in the commercialization of various products, which served to supply the Spanish Empire, the inhabitants of America and other countries with which Spain had a commercial relationship, both in Europe as in other continents.
Mining was a fairly developed activity given that the new lands were rich in various highly valuable minerals.
Spain was heavily dependent on American gemstones, especially silver and gold. According to information given by the French historian Pierre Chaunu, it is estimated that between 1503 and 1660 Spain extracted 25 million kilos of silver and 300 thousand kilos of gold from the New World, not inconsiderable sums.
Silver was also a fairly traded item with other nations. For example, the Philippines was a regular buyer of silver, and from that country it was distributed to other nations such as India or China.
Thanks to the silver extracted from America, Spain managed to increase its economic and military power, since it could become an important power at that time by stimulating international trade.
Trade in oriental products
Through the Urdaneta route, Asia was linked with America. A commercial relationship began between these regions, through which Asian objects were transferred from the Philippines, Japan, China, Cambodia and India, among other countries, to New Spain.
In principle, the final destination of much of the merchandise was Spain, but eventually New Spain had such a payment capacity that most of the exported objects remained on American soil.
Products such as silk, porcelain, furniture, fabrics made with cotton, Philippine beverages, waxes and decorations, among other objects, came to New Spain from Asia. There was also the commercialization of Asian slaves, who were called “Chinese Indians.”
All these elements were exchanged for precious stones (especially for silver, gold and lead ingots), cocoa, vinegar, leather, vanilla, dyes and other products. The East also received foods such as beans and corn, which were widely produced in America.
In this context of global exchange, Spain carried out a series of actions in order to restrict trade and protect its monopoly.
One of these actions was the construction of great walls and forts in the surroundings of Campeche and Veracruz, two highly vulnerable areas as they are the main embarkation and disembarkation points for products destined for foreign trade.
Another important limitation was to establish that only the Spanish could trade with the Philippines, in such a way as to keep the benefit of this prolific trade route for themselves.
These restrictions were not enough, since the demand for these products in other countries increased over time, so smuggling routes were generated through which it was possible to open the commercial market.
- Gordon, P., Morales, J. “The Silver Route and the first globalization” in Foreign Policy Studies. Retrieved on April 4, 2019 from Foreign Policy Studies: politicaexterior.com
- Méndez, D. “The Urdaneta expedition: the longest commercial maritime route in history” in XL Semanal. Retrieved on April 4, 2019 from XL Semanal: xlsemanal.com
- “Fleet of the Indies” in Wikipedia. Retrieved on April 4, 2019 from Wikipedia: wikipedia.org
- “Maritime routes” in The silver roads in Spain and America. Retrieved on April 4, 2019 from The roads of silver in Spain and America: loscaminosdelaplata.com
- “The port of Seville in the 16th century” at the University of Seville. Retrieved on April 4, 2019 from the University of Seville: us.es
- “New Spanish economy. Foreign trade ”at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Retrieved on April 4, 2019 from the National Autonomous University of Mexico: portalacademico.cch.unam.mx