China has been New Zealand's largest market for red meat for some time and growth in that market is surging.

Meat Industry Association analysis of Stats NZ figures shows China accounted for 36 per cent of total red meat exports in April and sales there that month jumped 62 per cent by value from the previous April.

That's down a little from the 70 per cent year-on-year growth in the month of March, although growth in the year ended March was a slightly more sedate 47 per cent.

"It's becoming a very dominant market, but that's where the demand is at the moment - it's a bit hard to say no if you've got customers there who are prepared to pay for it," MIA policy analyst Matt Conway says.


While the New Zealand meat industry was developed to serve the British market, that accounted for just 6 per cent of exports in March and April and in the year ended March.

That's a far cry from 1958 when 94 per cent of New Zealand sheepmeat exports went to Britain and 82 per cent of our beef exports went to the United States.

Britain remains a dominant market for higher-value chilled sheepmeat, taking 44 per cent by volume and 35 per cent by value of those exports in April, and China has yet to figure in the top 10 destinations for chilled lamb exports.

However, China dominates the frozen sheepmeat market, taking 58 per cent by volume and 46 per cent by value in April while Britain took just 7 percent both by volume and by value that month.

In beef, China took 41 per cent by volume and 40 per cent by value in April, relegating the US to second place with 35 per cent by volume and 34 per cent by value in the month.

And China has a much greater appetite for chilled beef than for lamb - it accounted for 28 per cent by volume and 20 per cent by value of exports in the month of April. China still takes more frozen beef, 42 percent by both volume and value of exports in the month.

Like all markets, demand in China waxes and wanes. In March 2016, for example, it was a shrinking market for sheepmeat with growth by volume falling 15 per cent from the previous March and down 34 per cent by value.

Putting some perspective on the more recent growth, in March 2016, China accounted for 38 per cent by volume and 21 per cent by value of sheepmeat exports.