Even after the passing of the ‘Free Trade’ acts in Europe and America between 1765 and 1803, colonisation still meant trade for European mercantile and maritime powers which were beginning to think of themselves as liberal in the politico-economic sense. As before, the only suitable way of obtaining profits appeared to be economic exploitation, albeit within a politico-institutional structure. This ideal had inspired the inflexible system that had dominated the relations of both Spain and Portugal with their respective transatlantic colonies. Likewise, ever since their first incursions into the New World, northern Europeans had encouraged the creation of commercial companies dedicated to monopolising any of the goods that colonies might possibly have to offer. Dutch, English and French merchants developed farreaching private and state programmes designed to direct trade and colonisation and to encourage the populating of the new lands. During the seventeenth century, some of these companies achieved considerable success. They were able to settle, with or without permission from the Spanish monarchy, in territories formally under Spanish control, such as Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, coastal Venezuela or Guiana, regarded as areas eminently suited to business projects.