New Zealand exported sheepmeat and beef worth $921 million in February with the value largely unchanged from a year earlier despite Covid-19, according to the latest figures from the Meat Industry Association (MIA).

The impact of Covid-19 saw the value of exports to China drop by 45 per cent to $175 million compared to February 2019. However, this was offset by increases in the value of overall exports to North America, North Asia (Japan and Taiwan) and the UK.

Month-on-month, export volumes of sheepmeat rose by six per cent in February compared to January 2020 but beef volumes fell by three per cent.

Sheepmeat exports to China were down 50 per cent by volume and 46 per cent by value compared to February 2019. Beef exports to China dropped 60 per cent by volume and 53 per cent by value.

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However, sheepmeat exports to the UK increased seven per cent by volume and 23 per cent by value. Other notable increases by volume included Malaysia (+184 per cent), Taiwan (+78 per cent), Saudi Arabia (+40 per cent) and Jordan (+151 per cent).

Beef exports to the US grew 39 per cent by volume and 62 per cent by value. There were also increases in the volume and value of beef exports to Taiwan, Canada and Japan.

The value of co-product exports also increased by 14 per cent compared to February 2019, with offal exports growing by 18 per cent and tallow by 133 per cent.

While co-products exports to China fell by 17 per cent, there was a massive increase of 726 per cent to Singapore on the previous year, growing in value from $2.1m to $17.3m in the 12-month period.

This was driven by demand for tallow as a feedstock for biodiesel manufacturing. Co-product exports also increased by 34 per cent to Japan and 17 per cent to Australia.

China remained the top sheepmeat market by volume in February, with 12,165 tonnes. The US was the top beef market by volume, with 19,600 tonnes.

Tim Ritchie, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, said the figures demonstrated the strength of New Zealand's red meat export sector.

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Chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, Tim Ritchie. Photo / Supplied
Chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, Tim Ritchie. Photo / Supplied

"The sector is committed to playing its part to drive export revenue for the benefit of New Zealand in these uncertain times.

"The spread of Covid-19 has created unprecedented challenges and disrupted the supply chain but the global demand for protein remains strong and we are benefiting from our diverse mix of global markets.

"We are seeing demand from China start to increase again as people go back to work and restaurants re-open. Our focus is now on ensuring we can keep our plants processing, keep our people safe and healthy and continue to export products to our global markets."