maandag, april 16, 2012

Commerce between Most Sacred and Catholic Majesties

During the redaction of my PhD (a tough but necessary process), I occasionally come across commercial or maritime texts, such as the Treaty of Navigation and Commerce between Charles VI and Philip V, concluded at Vienna, 1 May 1725 (Corps Universel Diplomatique du droit des gens, VIII/2, nr. XXXVIII, 114-121). This treaty constituted the economic part of the so-called 'Ripperda'-treaty, whereby the Habsburg Emperor and the Bourbon King of Spain concluded a monster alliance (see elsewhere). In practice, they walked away from the Congress of Cambrai (1722/1724-1725), somewhat unexpectedly stabbing France and Great Britain (mediators at the said multilateral conference) in the back.

The commercial clauses infuriated Britain (as always). At the 1713 Peace of Utrecht, Britain had become the prime trade partner of 'Old Spain' and its colonies. The former where of vital importance in 17th-18th century economic thought: the circulation of wealth in Europe was seen as a zero-sum game. Only the colonies brought a yearly surplus. Seizing the stream of gold from America and India amounted to de facto control of the continent.

When Emperor Charles VI surprisingly concluded peace with Spain, he obtained considerable economic privileges. Philip V now willingly accorded an equal rank to the subjects of the Emperor, who never had been very active in overseas commerce until Charles' decision to create companies at Ostend and Trieste. Charles was the sovereign of the current Belgium. His subjects had established the successful East India Trading Company (1722). Ships from Ostend came back from the East Indies with cheap tea, breaking market prices in Holland and Britain. At Cambrai, Britain asked for the abolition of the company. Secretly, The Hague and London even plotted to attack and destroy the port and harbour of Ostend.
It is very interesting to note how elaborate the commercial treaty was. It foresaw dispute settlement procedures, consular and diplomatic protection, seizure and customs limitation rules, property protection rules and embryonic 'human rights' (framed in the Ancien Régime-terms of 'liberty' and 'privilege') for Charles' subjects ('Belgian', Italian, German, Austrian, Bohemian, Hungarian...). The document granted legal security and limits import taxes in Spain, a flat rate replacing all external and internal duties. It tried to define contraband (which gave rise to numerous maritime disputes throughout the Early Modern period) and settled rules for inheritance. The treaty runs over 47 articles and highlights thus materially the importance of economic aspects in the droit public de l'Europe, creating an ad-hoc medley of public international, private international, tax law, civil procedure, tort and contracts, as the wordle should illustrate.

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