"of or pertaining to merchants, trade, or commerce," 1640s, from French mercantile (17c.), from Italian mercantile, from Medieval Latin mercantile, from Latin mercantem (nominative mercans) "a merchant," also "trading," present participle of mercari "to trade," from merx "wares, merchandise" (see market (n.)). Mercantile system first appears in Adam Smith (1776).
Mercantile system, in polit. econ., the belief generally held till the end of the last century, that all wealth consists in gold and silver, and that therefore the exportation of goods and importation of gold should be encouraged by the state, while the importation of goods and the exportation of gold should be forbidden, or at least restricted as much as possible. [Century Dictionary, 1895]