Anglo-German Trade Rivalry in the Interwar Period (1919-1939) of the Netherlands Indies


Abstrak Thesis Oleh: Prima Nurahmi Mulyasari, MA (History Department, Leiden University)

The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed political changes and the spread of industrialization from Britain to other countries in Europe and beyond. Under Otto von Bismarck Germany emerged as a powerful country. He unified separate small states and accelerated industrialization. Germany, which later massively developed its industry, appeared as a competitor of the British in the world market. At the end of the nineteenth century, there were, besides British products also a lot of German products in the Netherlands Indies, such as electric devices, locomotives, rails, machines for sugar factories, etc. There was little industrialization in the colony and as the mother country, the Netherlands did not so much to industrialize although it owned several big companies such as Philips, Shell and Unilever. In short, the Dutch relied on other countries for the export of their industrial products to their colony.

This thesis discusses the competition between the British and Germans in marketing their industrial products in the Dutch East Indies. I chose 1919-1939 as the period for this study because in this period, in line with the development of railways, harbors, trams, and other works, the needs for machinery and engineering products increased greater than ever before in the history of the Netherlands Indies. Therefore this study attempts to answer the following questions: What strategies were used by both British and German firms to market their products in the Netherlands Indies? To what extent did the chamber of commerce of each country play a role in the competition?

The establishment of the British Chamber of Commerce and the German Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands Indies shows that the Dutch colony became a potential market for those two countries to export their products. Both the British and German chambers in the Netherlands Indies issued a monthly journal and a yearbook in their mother tongue to accommodate information of their overseas trading in the Indian Archipelago. It seemed as though their rivalry, as exposed in their monthly journals, had more to do with nationalist sentiments rather than with rivalry in trade. German firms were flexible and were able meet the exact requirements of the market. They were willing to learn native languages, to directly keep in touch with their customers, to build their own trade agents, and to combine firms. Even in the recovery phase during the Interwar period, Germany was still superior in providing machines, apparatus, tools, chemicals, and railway material for the Netherlands Indies. The decision to offer cheap prices was a clever one, since most inhabitants of the Netherlands Indies were living in poverty. British industrial products took the lead in the vehicles sector, such as motorcycles and bicycles. Their high standard of quality, however, did not tally with the cheap financial value in the Dutch colony.

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