UK lamb trade balances

Thursday, 7 March 2019

By Rebecca Wright

It is well known that the UK both imports and exports sheep meat throughout the year. This is to balance two things, the timing of UK production compared to domestic demand, and the carcase. For example, the UK imports more legs than it exports (including those on exported carcases), and more of these imports happen in the spring. Unusually, in 2018 there was a pickup in shipments from New Zealand to the UK during June and July, which was largely driven by the high GB farmgate price recorded during March and April.

Looking at UK leg cuts imported, excluding those legs on carcases*, the UK imported just over 33,000 tonnes of fresh and frozen legs in 2018, while reported exports amounted to just 1,500 tonnes, according to HMRC data. Naturally the largest volumes are imported just before Easter, when UK leg demand is at its highest but domestic production at its lowest. Meanwhile the continental Europe imports significantly fewer legs.

Almost two thirds of UK reported exports of sheep meat is fresh or chilled carcases, with around three quarters of those carcases being lamb carcases. Meanwhile much of what is imported, outside of legs, is boneless cuts.

One of the reason why the UK imports most of its sheep meat as cuts rather than carcases, is due to preferences from New Zealand where exporters prefer to cut the carcases in order to maximise the value by sending different cuts to difference countries. The UK is unlikely to import cuts for which there is poor demand.

So, why doesn’t the UK cut carcases here and keep the cuts which are in demand, for example the legs, and export the rest? Reasons may include the specific needs of the main customers, EU importers, and less of a need to maximise the usage of container space, than with the longer distances faced by NZ exporters.

Much of what is imported in to the UK originates in New Zealand, while most UK exports are destined for the EU. Circumstances after Brexit will inevitably affect trade. At the time of writing this is still very uncertain.

*the UK imports relatively few carcases


Sign up for regular updates

You can subscribe to receive Beef and Lamb market news straight to your inbox. Simply fill in your contact details on our online form.

Visit the Keep in touch page

More Lamb market news