The 7th Century Islamic ascendancy cut off European access to the Indian ocean. This ended direct East-West trade until Vasco da Gama rounded the southern Cape of Africa and sailed into Calicut, India, in May, 1498. Thereafter, the Portuguese swiftly expanded their empire. Their most important possessions were in today's Indonesia and Malaysia, location of the fabled "spice islands", the source of nutmeg, cloves and mace. In only a few years, Portugal's virtual monopoly on spices made it rich.
The importance of spice is evidenced by the fact that the first Portuguese ambassador to China Tomé Pires, was an apothecary. In India and Malacca between 1512-15, Pires wrote a path-breaking manuscript on Europe-Asian trade, the Suma Oriental: An Account of the East, from the Red Sea to China. Apart from a brief excerpt, it was thought lost until re-discovered by Armando Cortesão in a Paris library in the mid-20th Century.
Pires was among the first to witness globalization--and to understand that, once established, international trade creates inexorable expectations. This line is from volume II, page 87 of his Suma: