The Board of Trade

In the 18th century Catalonia began a period of sustained economic growth during which its population doubled. Farmers dedicated their efforts to growing crops that allowed for greater production, and specialisation enabled surpluses to be sold. Interior trade was the first sector to grow, and the scope of action immediately spread to the entire Iberian Peninsula. Exchanges with the European continent via the Mediterranean and the Atlantic also received a powerful impulse. There was notable expansion in traditional manufactures like wool, iron and paper, and new ones like cotton were developed: in fact cotton became the main motor of Catalonia’s modern industrial development.

Although the Decree of “Nueva Planta” promulgated by Philip V at the beginning of the century entailed a profound remodelling of the country’s political structure, Catalan traders soon began to collaborate with the Bourbon authorities. In this respect, in 1758 Ferdinand VI created the Three Bodies of Commerce with the aim of stimulating the Catalan economy. It was decreed that they would be housed in the Llotja and would recover the old pierage tax as their source of funding.

The first of these Three Bodies was the “Matrícula” or Traders’ Community, which included the principal wholesalers, landowners and freemen. The second, the Consulate Tribunal, was in charge of settling disputes between traders. And finally, the Royal Board of Trade of Barcelona defended the interests of the large merchants. It was headed by the Intendent, the royal official who was in charge of the administration and economic promotion of the territory.

The Board of Trade played a leading role in stimulating the country’s various economic sectors. It urged the elimination of the right of the bolla – a tax levied on the entry and exit of cloth to and from the main Catalan towns – created numerous professional training schools, and promoted the Trading Company of Barcelona and the Indies and freedom of trade with Latin America.