4 Apr 2023

Concern over dive in sheep meat exports to the UK

1:20 pm on 4 April 2023
Sheep bred for milking by Mid Canterbury based Matt and Tracey Jones from Sheep Milk New Zealand.

Photo: RNZ / Nathan McKinnon

Meat exports have taken a dive, with the amount of sheep meat being sent to the UK in February the lowest for that month in more than 35 years.

New figures from the Meat Industry Association show overall exports dropped almost a fifth compared to last year.

Sheep- meat exports to both the UK and the EU were well below pre-pandemic historic levels for the time of year.

Volumes to the UK were down 43 percent to 2410 tonnes, with value decreasing 61 percent to $23 million - the lowest volume for more than 35 years and the lowest value since 1989.

Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva said the drop is due to deteriorating global economic conditions and demand from China not picking up as expected following the lifting of Covid lockdowns.

Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association

Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva. Photo: Supplied / Meat Industry Association

"The UK is probably the one that's the most noticeable and probably the worst-hit. Consumers are struggling with very difficult economic conditions and food inflation hitting about 17 percent.

"There's some real pain going on in that market, so you can understand why people might be cutting back on certain products to try and make ends meet."

There has not yet been any jump in demand from China following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions in December.

It appeared that Chinese consumers were being cautious and a significant spending recovery remained on hold, she said.

Karapeeva said the drop in exports to the UK was concerning as traditionally it was one of New Zealand's most lucrative markets for chilled lamb.

"We will simply need to look at alternative markets to fill the gap, something companies here are well-versed at because we export to 110 countries.

"The US is a positive story because volumes exported there were up 8 percent and the value was also up by about 9 percent, so clearly there are other markets that we can export to. They're just not as well-established as the UK."

The fluctuation in market activity showed the importance of having access to multiple markets to limit the risk, she said.

"Something the government can do is continue to push for better market access and open up new markets for our product as that certainly gives companies that buffer and flexibility to shift to different markets.

"India is a big one for us, It's a large market with a large population and a large middle class and we know there is demand for our product there, but unfortunately we have to pay very high tariffs which makes our products very expensive there."

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