Monday, August 2, 2010

Manila the galleons: The birthplace of globalization


The history of Manila is inextricably linked with the galleon trade.

Manila Bay was one of the busiest ports in the 16th century. Its topography made it a safe harbor for traders who voyaged in huge ships carrying precious commodities like silk, silver and indigo. Manila became the port of export for Chinese trade and some Philippine commodities. Acapulco was the port of destination in the Americas, separated from Asia by the Pacific Ocean.

The galleon, with its size and great capacity for cargo, was a combination of warship, freighter, passenger and troop carrier. It was, however, at the mercy of the winds. During that time they had few nautical aids, making voyage in the high seas dangerous and expensive. The sea had claimed dozens of ships, thousands of men and many millions worth of goods and treasures.

It was only when the Basque navigator and friar Fray Andres de Urdaneta came to the Philippines in 1565 that a return route to Mexico was established. On board the San Pablo, he journeyed for 129 days from Cebu to Acapulco, relying on nothing more than a compass, expert knowledge of wind patterns and an uncanny sense of direction. The first round trip made by Urdaneta became the regular course of the Manila galleon throughout its existence.

The Manila galleon became the lifeline for relations among Asia, Europe and the Americas, sailing continuously for two and a half centuries—a record that no other shipping line has ever matched. It gave us a place in world history like no other economic feature of the country.

As such, the historic Manila-Acapulco galleon trade marked the beginnings of globalization. Scholars agree that the first real global trade dates from the Manila galleon trade, which formed the first direct and permanent trade link between America and Asia. The world became a global village, with Manila as the most important port in Asia.

In the same manner, one could also say that the Philippines-Mexico trade routes were the forerunners to the North American Free Trade Agreement and the European Union. It was through the galleon trade that the now important concept of regional trade integration was born.

Our 16th century relations with these countries brought trade, investment, agriculture and the enrichment of our culture and language. Through the celebration of the Dia del Galeon in October, we pay tribute to our roots and reunite ourselves with the Ibero-American bloc.