UK sheep meat trade balance remains positive in April

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

The UK exported 6,987 tonnes of fresh and frozen sheep meat in April, up 2.5% (+170 tonnes) from March and a year-on-year increase of 33% (+1,700 tonnes).

The EU receives over 95% of UK sheep meat exports and therefore is the main driver for the year-on-year increase, receiving almost 6,700 tonnes in April, up 45% (+2,000 tonnes) compared to last year. In 2021 high UK lamb prices meant we lost our competitiveness to the EU market and so exports were significantly lower than recent years. However, in 2022 UK lamb is discounted compared to key producers on the continent and so exports are strong, supported also by increased domestic production. France took in over 3,600 tonnes of UK sheep meat in April, over half of the total EU volume and an annual increase of 60% (+1,400 tonnes). Some exporters now find it preferable to channel exports intended for the wider EU through France, so not all exports to France are necessarily intended for the French market itself.

graph showing exports of UK lamb

Imports of fresh and frozen sheep meat into the UK totalled 6,232 tonnes in April, an 11% decrease (-750 tonnes) from March but an increase from last year of 43% (+1,900 tonnes). Imports in 2021 were significantly lower than previous years due to a combination of a reduced export market, meaning more domestic produce was available to the home market, and difficulties in shipping with lack of availability of containers and severe cost increases.

New Zealand still dominates UK sheep meat imports with over 65% (4,000 tonnes) of UK imports originating from the country, however this market share is seeing year on year decline. Imports from Australia appear to be growing, making up 19% (1,200 tonnes) of sheep meat imports to the UK in April 2022, up from 8% in 2019, this is before the free trade agreement has come into force, due later this year. Growth in imports from the EU has been driven by increased imports from Ireland. Ireland sent 750 tonnes of sheep meat to the UK in April 2022, an increase of almost 600 tonnes compared to last year.

graph showing change in UK lamb imports

Overall, sheep meat exports are outweighing imports with year-to-date volumes standing at 24,400 tonnes exported (25% annual increase) vs 22,300 tonnes imported (9% annual decrease). We expect this trend to continue in 2022, not just because production is higher in autumn, but as increased annual production overall means there is a good supply of UK lamb available to trade.

Image of staff member Freya Shuttleworth

Freya Shuttleworth

Analyst (Dairy & Livestock)

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