Trade and Commerce

Trade (the exchange
of goods) has
probably existed for as
long as humanity has.
There is firm evidence
that trade existed
during the Neolithic
(new stone age)
period – there was an
exchange of
distinctive tools and
ornaments between
early towns and
Early trade was based
on barter (swapping
goods). This was not a
satisfactory system
because (a)there was
no way of fixing value
and (b) goods very
frequently heavy and
hard to transport.
There is some
disagreement among
archaeologists regarding
where money was
invented. Many believe
that money was first used
in Lydia (ancient Turkey)
about 700 BC. Others
believe that money
originated in ancient
China. Early Chinese coins
had a hole in the centre
(see top picture) so that
they could be worn on a
belt. Paper money made
its first appearance in
China around 900 AD.
Early Irish society had a
wealth system based on
cattle. Coins were
introduced by the Vikings
in the central Middle
Ages. (see bottom picture
for a Dublin silver penny).
In the Middle Ages and
early modern period,
spices were an essential
commodity. They were
used both to preserve
food, and to disguise the
taste of meat that wasn’t
very fresh. Most spices
came from India (pepper,
cinnamon, nutmeg etc.).
The overland trade routes
from India to Europe were
very dangerous,
especially after the
Mongol and Muslim
conquests of the 10th-12th
centuries. The Portugese
discovered a sea-route
around the bottom of
South Africa (the Cape of
Good Hope). The Spanish
hired Christopher
Columbus to find an
alternative westward
trade route to India –
instead, he discovered
The Spanish and the
Portugese had trade
empires in the Far East
and America, Britain
conquered Canada,
parts of North America
and large areas in West
Africa, Germany and
Belgium controlled large
parts of Africa, Holland
had an empire based in
Indonesia…from the 16th
to the early 20th century,
the European powers
ruthlessly exploited Africa
and Asia for their own
commercial benefit. This
was the cause, or one of
the causes, of many wars,
from the American War of
Independence to the
Boxer Rebellion in China,
from the Boer War to the
First World War.
Today, many
producers of
commodities (e.g.
bananas, coffee and
tea) are still exploited
by “middle men” who
buy their goods
cheaply and sell them
on for a large profit.
The arms trade is a
very destructive trade
where greedy people
sell guns to
governments who wish
to oppress their own
people, and to terrorist
Organizations like
Fairtrade try to help by
ensuring that producers
are paid a fair price for
their goods. The Fairtrade
logo (see opposite)
stamped on a product
means that the people
who produce the goods
(e.g. coffee) get a fair
share of the profits. It is
important that we try to
ensure that the goods we
buy have not been
produced by children
and adults forced to work
in “sweat shops”. If we
suspect that goods we
buy are being produced
like this, we should write to
the companies involved
asking them to give a
better deal to their