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This article reviews the ways in which historians and economists have applied the term ‘globalization’ to the early modern era. It distinguishes a soft and a hard definition, and goes on to test the claims made about the driving forces shaping the growth and character of long-distance trade between Europe and Asia in the age of the European trading companies. On the basis of new estimates of the volume and value of European trade with Asia, the article concludes by identifying the factors limiting the growth of trade in this period.