Report on the May 23rd workshop


Thank you to Alexandre Aubourg, who wrote this report on the May 23rd meeting on Early Trade Statistics at the OFCE, Paris

For more details on the working day, see

Attendance :

The first presentation was a welcome word by Jérôme Creel, who remined us of the economic history tradition in the OFCE.

Loïc Charles (University of Paris 8/INED) gave a presentation on the findings and the issues raised by the questionnaires on trade statistics. The statistics accumulated can be classified according the geopolitical unit to which they belonged: ports, regions or nations. While each unit has its advantages and disavantages, another geographical issue brought to light was the presence of a land frontier.The collection of the data was carried out for fiscal purpose even though mercantilism was on the wane (the rise of the Weberian state comes as a possible explanation). Some technical issues come from prices – which are sometimes fixed or lacking. The creation of common measures between monetary accounts, weights and quantities or the use of premiums added to a given set of price may help solve these problems. While bilateral comparisons could be interesting, one should be aware that any economic issue will be constrained by the dataset available. It was also underlined that when indications of destination/origin, price, long series are present, it would be quite interesting to compute indicators of trade specialisation. Some programmatic issues introduced : one may adopt a comprehensive approach involving the names of individual goods and a description and translation work (which was prefered by the audience) or a limited approach using the value of trade per category expressed in common currency.

Ulrich Pfister (University of Münster) presented a paper on import trade in Hamburg (1733-1798), the port of which had key role in the German trade overseas- notably the colonial trade. The dataset is composed of 187,000 declarations of value of imported goods coming from import toll ledgers and provides a consistent picture of Germany’s international economy. For simplicity, 40 major groups were notably obtained from 6,900 terms. Moreover, deflating current Hambourg price allowed to obtain prices for 44 commodities of interest. The results show an increase in openess, while no steady trend and war-related schocks can be observed. However, the dataset is flawed by under registration that may be explained by transit trade and rival satellite ports.

Werner Scheltjens (University of Leipzig) presented a study of French import for the Baltic between 1670 and 1850. The main source are the Sound Toll Registers, which are the records of the toll levied on the passage of ships through the Sound. A significant part of the work consisted in homogenizing and the standardizing products, converting weights and measures and combining them with origins. The results notably highlight a sharp decline in the French share of imported goods in the late 1770s.

Cristina Moreira (University of Minho), Jari Eloranta (Appalachian State University and University of Jyväskylä), Jari Ojala (University of Jyväskylä) and Lauri Karvonen (Åbo Akademi University) discussed over methodological issues in comparing trade flows between Portugal and Scandinavia, which proved to be very good partners. One major issue regards the use of values (which may be easily compared but leads to difficult problems to deal with) and volume (which are precise but not easily comparable). Ulrich Pfister argued that one should work with real volumes and create an index of trade to get the evolution of prices. As it was also pointed out during the discussion, the use of bilateral trade, which does not always represent the genuine structure of trade, may also be questionned. We also face matching problems, which may lead us to focus on ships.

Jeroen van der Vliet (Rijksmuseum Amsterdam), whose aim is to link Amsterdam and Sound data sources, showed how he used a shipment approach and looked at the size of Dutch merchants fleet and the tonnage per destination. His main source are the “musterolls”, which provides a comprehensive biography of the ships. After describing the usages of the merchants in Amsterdam and comparing the data, he discussed the link between the utilization of the flag of convenience and the apparent relative decline of Amsterdam over the 18th century.

Hubert Escaith (WTO) gave a presentation on past and current issues in trade statistics. After a short talk about the evolution of official statistis from the 18th century, the frequentist and subjectivist schools and their success over space, sectors and time were presented. Hubert then launched in a discussion on current issues in trade statistics – notably the motives for collecting trade statistics (which are useful for the government – among other things to show their solvability, as François Mouriaux pointed out) and the importance of tracking value-added trade.

Guillaume Daudin (Univerisity of Paris-Dauphine/OFCE) presented a comparison between the French Balance du Commerce and the Sound Toll database. First, the sources have to be made comparable, which means that some issues related to the classification of goods, translation to French, quantity units but also geographical changes have to be fixed. Comparisons of the sectorial composition of trade in a given year, the volume of trade, the values, the number of pieces and the longitudinal evolution of trade throughout the period are then carried out. While some anomalies regarding the composition of trade were highlighted, it was found that the composition of Sound taxes was related to the composition of the value of French trade.

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