The Bittersweet Century: Slavery, tariffs and Brazilian export growth during the nineteenth century

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This dissertation revises the veracity of the official statistics and conventional narrative of Brazil’s export performance during the nineteenth century. An accuracy test reveals that the official export series is undervalued. When corrected using international prices, post-independence (1822-1850) export growth is found to be the most dynamic of the century. This dynamism was driven by the rapid growth of coffee exports in the southeast and the revival of sugar exports in the northeast. The first part of the dissertation posits that Brazil’s dynamic post-independence export performance was associated with exogenous institutional change that improved Brazilian competitiveness in international markets, specifically British West Indies slave emancipation. The second part of the dissertation tests the emancipation hypothesis. Results indicate that, for the case of sugar, British slave emancipation served to increase the demand for Brazilian sugar in the British market. Increased demand was due to two British policy interventions. Initially, the premature end to the system of apprenticeship in the West Indies in 1838 corresponded with increased imports of Brazilian sugar, much of it destined to the British re-export market. The reduction of duties on non-colonial sugar in 1846, together with declining supplies from the British West Indies, led to rapidly increasing quantities of Brazilian sugar retained for consumption. I estimate that the British policy interventions contributed to an increase in Brazil’s market share of five per cent. Given the size of the British sugar market, however, this corresponded to around 15 to 28 per cent of the volume of Brazil’s exports. A comparison with other markets indicates that these trends were largely confined to the British sugar market. For the case of coffee, the determinant of the rapid growth of coffee exports is found to be the reduction and abolition in 1832 of the tariff on coffee in the United States. The consequent fall in the duty-paid price led to a rapid increase in consumption and the expansion of the potential of the American coffee market. In less than a decade, the United States became the principal consumer of coffee exports from Rio de Janeiro, and Brazil became the leading supplier of coffee to the American market. I estimate that the reduction and abolition of the American tariff on coffee is associated with an increase of around one-third in the volume of coffee exports from the port of Rio de Janeiro. Given that the cultivation of coffee was dependent on the exploitation of African slave labour, I also find that the reduction and abolition of the tariff corresponded to an increase of one-quarter in the number of African slaves imported to the southeast during the 1830s. Overall, the results of this dissertation represent an important re-interpretation of the determinants of Brazilian export growth during the postindependence period.
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