The Cosmopolitan City. Riga as a Global Port and International Capital of Trade (1861-1939)

Development of Riga’s Trade Connections in Europe
Due the expansion and consolidation of the Imperial Russian railway network, especially as a result of the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (after 1891), a growing number of agricultural products from the Russian Empire were shipped through the Riga port, increasing exports exponentially. Imports grew to an even higher degree since Russia’s emergent industry was in need of machinery and raw materials, in particular after the 1890s.

Most important trading partners
Since the early modern period, England (and later Great Britain) had been Riga’s most important trading partner. Yet, between 1890 and 1913, the trade volume multiplied even further. Riga’s exports to Great Britain tripled while imports increased by eight times. Riga’s native industry, which grew rapidly in the 1880s and 1890s, was in dire need of coal. The import of coal from Britain by sea route was more cost-efficient than the transport of coal from Russian, Ukrainian or Polish coal mines by railroad. As a result British coal became the engine for Riga’s industrialization. Riga also imported large amounts of manufactured goods from Great Britain.
Riga’s second most important trading partner was the German Empire. After the ratification of the 1894 German-Russian trade agreement, the two empires settled their formerly aggressive trade war, allowing for a sharp boost of exports and imports. Riga’s exports to the German Empire increased sixfold between 1890 and 1913, while imports from German ports to Riga multiplied by ten. Next to machinery and manufactured goods, Riga imported raw materials and building materials from Germany.

New Trade Routes
Value and volume of exports and imports increased not only on already existing trade routes. The ArcGIS maps for Europe also show an overall expansion of the trade network, with a steady rise of trade links to Great Britain and the German Empire between 1893 to 1913.
This development was enhanced by technological innovations in the area of steam shipping and new transport routes created by infrastructural projects such as the Emperor Wilhelm Canal or Kiel Canal (Germ. Nord-Ostsee-Kanal). The Kiel Canal linked the Baltic Sea to the North Sea, making the detour through the Danish Øresund redundant. This new sea route shortened the journey from Riga to the German Empire and Great Britain significantly. In 1901, a steamship from Riga to London took only four days, while the sea passage from Riga to Hamburg was shorted to two days. This allowed Riga to strengthen its position as an exporter of agricultural products to the most densely populated and industrialized regions in western Europe, such as the British Midlands and the German Ruhr district.

Main sources:
Gernet, Bruno von: Die Entwicklung des Rigaer Handels und Verkehrs im Laufe der letzten 50 Jahre bis zum Ausbruche des Weltkrieges, Jena 1919. Handelsstatistische Section des Rigaer Börsen-Comités (ed.): Beiträge zur Statistik des Rigaschen Handels, Jg. 1883-1913, Riga 1884-1914. Rīgas Biržas Komitejas 1933. gada darbības pārskats, Rīga 1934.

Riga’s Global Trade Network
Riga’s trade in raw materials and agricultural products