A US lobby group is calling for increased tariffs on New Zealand lamb in a bid to help the struggling local industry.
R-CALF USA, the largest body representing producers of cattle and sheep in the United States, said the sheep industry there has been decimated over the last three decades with an explosion of lamb and mutton from Australia and New Zealand pushing down returns for local producers.
It is petitioning the United States trade ambassador - calling on her to slow imports of lamb.
Speaking from Montana this morning the group's chief executive Bill Bullard said lamb production in the US has declined by 60 percent in the last 30 years.
"We began to see an increase in imports back in the early 90s and while the imports increased, our domestic production began to fall because the imports were cheaper and our domestic sheep meat couldn't compete with it.
"Farmers have left the industry, packing plants have closed and we've seen a drastic reduction in the economic viability of our sheep shipping industry in the United States."
Bullard said the country only has about five million sheep left.
"It's still being eaten and in fact lamb consumption in the US is increasing significantly year after year, but imported meat makes up 74 percent of the market and domestic supply is only 26 percent - something we want to see changed."
New Zealand lamb exported to the US currently faces tariff rates of between 0.7 and 2.8 cents depending on the product.
Bullard would like to see that increased as well as stricter quantity restrictions on imports which would provide space for the domestic industry to rebuild - creating more of an even playing field.
"We're proposing this is done over a 10-year period because we're not trying to stop imports, because if we did, we could not meet domestic demand for lamb. But what we need to do is provide space for our industry so it can recapture at least half of the domestic market share.
"We have no ill-will towards New Zealand or Australian sheep producers. We understand that prices have been depressed there as well and so we have an international problem in that we have a high level of concentration on a global scale and as a result, it's the middleman that is capturing much of the profits."
The New Zealand Meat Industry Association has been approached for comment.