Beef exports to China provided a $675 million fillip in red meat exports to $8.75 billion last year, the Meat Industry Association (MIA) says.
While the value of lamb, beef and other red meat products all improved, easily the largest increase came from beef exports, which were up 13 per cent to $3.3 billion.
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China also took a disproportionate amount of red meat overall, importing just under $3 billion of products, 49 per cent more than the prior year.
Of all markets, only Japan ($363 million) and Australia ($166 million) showed year-on-year growth.
The MIA annual report to June 2019 reports that the largest growth was to China, partly due to the impact of the African swine fever outbreak, but also on the back of ongoing strong demand for safe protein.
Halal certified exports also remained a strong feature of the industry's ''value add'' proposition, accounting for more than 43 per cent of total exports, primarily into Muslim consuming countries worldwide, China being the largest market.
The report notes that beef exports over the first six months of 2019 had almost doubled year-on-year to 113,000 tonnes and New Zealand is now vying with South American beef producers Argentina (151,000 tonnes), Brazil (149,000) and Uruguay (142,000) for top honours.
China is also now New Zealand's largest market for chilled beef by volume, taking 7070 tonnes last year, just ahead of the 6756 tonnes sent to Japan.
''This is from a small number of plants approved to export chilled meat to China, highlighting the importance of widening access for chilled meat to all China-listed plants,'' the report says.
In the sheep meat market, revenue for the year increased by 6 per cent to $3.8 billion, from a nominal volume increase to just under 400,000 tonnes.
Again, China continue to be New Zealand's largest market, taking 203,865 tonnes, or 51 per cent of total sheepmeat exports.
The US market also featured strongly for sheepmeat products, with a 24 per cent increase in value to $456 million, overtaking the UK as New Zealand's second most valuable sheepmeat market.
The average value, however, reflected a very different product mix, with the average value of sheepmeat exports to the US coming in at $17.79/kg for the year, compared to $6.77/kg for China.