Background and History
Antwerp has always been at the forefront of the international global trade and business. The city has been and is the commercial centre of Belgium home to influential international companies in different sectors. Long before any kind of stock exchange was officially put in place, Antwerp already was an established hub of trade in physical goods and non-physical paper trade or debt settlements. People from all corners of the world came to seek their fortunes in this magnificent city.
Although Amsterdam has the honour of officially establishing the first stock exchange financing their voyages to the Far East. Antwerp had been at the forefront of establishing a stock exchange sans stock. In 1531, in Antwerp, emerged the first institution resembling a stock market. However, it must be noted that this was the first stock market without any stocks being traded. Rather than buying and selling shares, lenders came together to deal with business and individual debt issues.
Antwerp is a city that has always been adaptive to change and grasping the opportunities that came along its way. This has allowed this city to not only survive but also thrive economically as well as culturally for such a long period of time. By specialising in niche products such as textiles, diamonds, different commodities and recently chemicals, it has always been able to sustain itself and play a role on the world stage since the 1500’s by using its competitive advantages such as it’s location on the right riverbank of the Scheldt to the full extent.
How it started – 16th Century
During the 16th century, Antwerp became the sugar capital of the world. Europe had developed a lust for sugar to sweeten the novelties arriving from the tropics such as coffee and tea. It was the gateway for the products arriving from the Portuguese and Spanish plantations. Not so long after the trade had started, German refineries were set up in Antwerp and those commodity trading and producing houses traded sugar with Italy, France and Germany.
The second industry to grow due to this boom in business was the financial and banking sector. Antwerp became a major financial hub of a worldwide banking network. London wasn’t back then even in sight and the British government used to take out loans with banking houses located in Antwerp.
Ups and Downs of the 17th & 18th Century
The next goods to boom in the Antwerp trade where spices, American silver and, textiles. These products as sugar before contributed heavily to the economic development of Antwerp. It allowed the city, citizens and, businessmen to invest in infrastructure, education and culture.
During the 17th century, Antwerp became the victim of political intrigues and a treaty made the economic activity to shift from Antwerp to Amsterdam as it previously some years back had caused business and trade to move from Bruges to Antwerp.
The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte thought differently and saw Antwerp as an important city for French trade with the whole world. He wanted to make Antwerp in the best port in the world and thus it would be a counterweight to London, the most advanced port in the world at the time. This legacy still lives on in Antwerp since the Port of Antwerp is the second largest port in Europe and amongst the top 20 in the world. Not only in size but also in terms technological advancement, efficiency and effectiveness.
Diamonds – End of the 19th Century
Antwerp becomes the major diamond dealing centre in the world. This is still the case today and Antwerp is effectively the capital of the world diamond trade.
Around 85% of the world’s diamonds are traded and routed through Antwerp’s one square mile diamond district. Day in and day out roughly around $225 million is traded in this square mile.
Stages of the 20th Century
Post War 60’s
During this period, there were tremendous investments in the infrastructure and the vision was to centre Antwerp as Europe’s leading centre for international trade and logistics.
The Vibrant 90’s
Antwerp started to position itself as a major fashion destination. Even though it has a great history in terms of textile design and production, it had always been the little brother of Paris and the likes. Due to the constant talented flowing out of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, it gained international prestige as a fashion hub and shopping destination. Antwerp became direct competition for established centres such as London, New York, Milan and Paris.
There are numerous visions for Antwerp to continue its constant and upwards trajectory as a sustainable city. It that has played a major economic and cultural role for a long period of time all the while making its mark worldwide. Not all of these visions will become reality but as long as there is a vision, passion, and direction, this city will follow the way of the future