Beef exports to China continue to underpin New Zealand's red meat export sales, which hit a record $9.1billion last year.

Latest Meat Industry Association data shows that the value of shipments to China jumped by 57 per cent to reach $3.7 billion.

Sheep meat grew 40 per cent to $1.6 billion and beef exports more than doubled to $1.7 billion.

The industry association said New Zealand meat exporters had benefited from tariff reductions into Japan following the new trans Pacific partnership agreement and total tariff savings were nearly $25 million on beef and offal exports to the country.

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The value of red meat products to Japan increased by 4 per cent to $367 million for the year, propped up by an 11 per cent increase in the value of beef exports, which grew to $183 million in 2019, and beef offals, which grew by 37 per cent to $48 million.

The Australian meat products market also continued to be an important one, totalling $144 million, making it the 10th-largest market for New Zealand.

Outgoing Meat Industry Association chief executive Tim Ritchie, said the latest figures reinforced the importance of the sector to the New Zealand economy.

"The meat processing industry is New Zealand's largest manufacturing sector and employs approximately 25,000 people, many from regional and rural communities.

"That's why we need to ensure any policy reforms, whether that be climate change, forestry or freshwater, need to be carefully thought through so as to avoid any negative unintended consequences."

He said the sector was continuing to monitor the impact of the spreading coronavirus which had disrupted the supply chain for red meat in China.

"Despite the issue in China, the underlying global demand for protein remains strong," he said.