The monthly value of New Zealand red meat and co-product exports topped $1 billion for the first time, according to an analysis by the Meat Industry Association.

Total exports reached $1.1b in March 2020, an increase of 12 per cent on March 2019.

Although overall exports to China for the month of March were down 9 per cent compared with last March as a result of Covid-19, exports to all other major markets increased, demonstrating the agility and resilience of the New Zealand red meat sector.

Sheepmeat export volumes were up 4 per cent and value up 13 per cent compared with last March. And while sheepmeat exports to China were down 11 per cent by volume compared with last March, they still recovered significantly from February, doubling to nearly 25,000 tonnes.

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A decrease in sheepmeat exports to the United States was offset by a significant increase in exports to Malaysia, up 131 per cent to 3310 tonnes.

There was a similar increase in beef exports, up 3 per cent by volume and 14 per cent by value.

China was the only major market where beef exports decreased compared with last March, but as with sheepmeat, they recovered significantly from February, doubling to 13,408 tonnes.

Notably, beef exports to Australia rose strongly to 1230 tonnes, reflecting the significant two-way trade in red meat and co-products between the two countries, which is driven by supply and demand in each country and facilitated by the open trading relationship.

The latest figures highlighted the New Zealand red meat sector's strong global networks and agility, said chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, Sirma Karapeeva.

"These statistics are pleasing, especially given the challenges and disruption to the supply chain as a result of Covid-19.

"Some channels such as the food service sector have been significantly impacted. Processing and exporting companies have been agile enough to pivot to other markets and other segments such as retail and online channels."

Strong export performance was also due to processing and exporting companies working hard under challenging conditions and strict Covid-19 processing protocols to keep their businesses operating, Karapeeva said.

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"There is clearly strong global demand for protein, however we are also mindful of the considerable global volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace.

"Now, more than ever, the red meat sector is proving how important it is to the New Zealand economy. As New Zealand's largest manufacturing sector, we are generating critical export revenue and supporting thousands of jobs and communities across the country.

"The people working in our sector, whether that's at processing plants, in sales and marketing or food technology, deserve great credit for this outstanding performance."

Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association. Photo / Supplied
Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association. Photo / Supplied

Exports for first quarter strong

Overall, exports for the first quarter of 2020 were strong, up by 11 per cent by value compared with the 2019 first quarter. Total exports to China were down (10 per cent by value) but there were increases to nearly all other major markets.

Sheepmeat export volumes for the quarter were down 5 per cent, largely driven by a 23 per cent drop in the volume of exports to China.

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However, the overall sheepmeat export value was up 6 per cent to $1.4b with a 13 per cent drop in export value to China offset by increases to the UK, up 25 per cent to $184 million, Germany, up 15 per cent to $102m, and Malaysia up 171 per cent to $61m.

Beef exports for the first quarter were up 4 per cent by volume and 19 per cent by value compared with 2019. Again, exports to China decreased, but exports to nearly all other major markets increased in volume and value. Indonesia was particularly strong, up 174 per cent by volume to 2950 tonnes, and 189 per cent by value to $13m.

Annual exports positive

Annual exports were also strong, up by 7 per cent to $9.3b for the past 12 months. Total exports to China increased by 36 per cent by value, despite the impact of Covid-19 on the first quarter of this year, reflecting the high demand from China for most of last year.

Exports to most other major markets decreased by value, apart from Japan up 8 per cent to $400m and Australia up 6 per cent to $174m.

Although the overall volumes of sheepmeat decreased 7 per cent to 383,126 tonnes compared with the previous March year, the value increased by 2 per cent to $4b for the year. China was up 18 per cent to $1.5b and most other markets were down, apart from Malaysia - up 67 per cent to $94m.

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Beef volumes were up 4 per cent to 465,208 tonnes. China took the lead up by 52 per cent to 208,881 tonnes and Japan 8 per cent to 20,458 tonnes, but most other markets dropped compared with the previous March year. Notably, volumes to Switzerland increased by 101 per cent to 5093 tonnes.

The value of beef exports was up 18 per cent to $3.8b. As with volume, there were increases to China and Japan with decreases to other major markets apart from a significant increase to Switzerland, up 121 per cent to $40m.