20th century
export promotion
foreign aid
geographical imagination


Markets of the future: Swedish economic diplomacy in Africa and Asia during the era of decolonization

Decolonization provided economic opportunities for Swedish business. This paper analyses Swedish commercial responses to the political developments in Africa and Asia during the 1950s found in the correspondence and reports of the General Export Association and in the periodical Svensk Export. The theoretical framework builds on the claim that economic diplomacy is a market practice that has contributed to the construction of foreign markets. The collective efforts of the Association to promote Swedish trade with African and Asian regions, and the ways in which those efforts were represented to its members, created a shared geographical imagination in Swedish business circles.

Demanding but potentially lucrative, framtidsmarknader (”markets of the future”) formed a central tenet of this shared imagination. According to the Association, the promise of future profits in the postcolonial world required that Swedes become more pro-active and ”modern” when marketing their products overseas. The analysis focuses on India and the Belgian Congo. Both were the subject of a series of Swedish economic-diplomatic efforts, and they represent different articulations of this market type. The paper makes several contributions. It argues that the construction of framtidsmarknader resembled the construction of so-called ”emerging markets” in the 1990s. It contextualizes the commercial logic behind Sweden’s early ventures into development aid. Furthermore, it highlights the relationship between the commercial category framtidsmarknader and the social-scientific category ”developing countries,” which emerged around the same time. Finally, it traces the formation of a professional cadre of commercial experts on developing countries: the Trade Commissioners.