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Two items for a starting income are Rubies which require no initial upgrade to rings; just just deliver them directly to Palaces. Silver ingots equally are another good starting income to Palaces and Temples; delivered at the rate of three each trip. The AI merchants will compete fairly aggressively for the initial high Ruby price but they will leave you to the silver trade.
A focus on Damascus Steel Swords from 1375 AD is a good route to MP. This high demand product can be mass produced on any of the six regional maps, despite its name. A dedicated steel sword merchant on each map will really generate a lot of coins without creating long hauls across the entire six maps.
Looking for products the AI merchants are not trading in can make establishing initial profits easier. The AI is aggressive in delivering iron swords, silk and medicine when they are first available. The merchant player can make excellent profits on dwelling goods uninterrupted by the AI by delivering; dyed cloth, olive oil, tea and sugar for example.
The difficulties in this scenario come from starting up and getting goods across distances, then having the money for upgrades you require and the higher costs for merchants to use. The last of the usual thirty merchants is available for hire at the cost of 6400 coins; which is part of the difficulty rating. In many later scenarios many merchants cost from 4000 coins to 6400 coins maximum to hire.
This is an episode of many options including Paper, Manuscripts, Centralized Coinage [delivering Silver to Mints], accessing Ceramics and Cinnamon from Hangzhou and maybe using the Wain [8 units carried].