New Zealand's red meat sector exported $9.2 billion worth of products during 2020, an increase of 1 per cent on the previous year, analysis by the Meat Industry Association shows.
Overall exports during the year reached historically high levels and were 7 per cent above 2018 exports ($8.6 billion) and 21 per cent above 2017 ($7.6 billion).
"The results demonstrate that New Zealand's red meat exports have remained stable despite the challenges of the global pandemic," association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva said.
"That is great news for the New Zealand economy and for farmers. We have a diverse market portfolio and last year exported products to 111 countries around the world.
"This strategy, together with our strong market relationships, has been critical to helping the industry weather the volatility over the past year.
"It also highlights the key role our industry is playing in underpinning the New Zealand economy during the global pandemic," she said.
There remained strong global demand for safe and natural high quality red meat during the pandemic.
"This is New Zealand's competitive advantage and we need to continue telling this story," she said.
The top 10 markets for New Zealand meat remained unchanged during 2020.
China continued to be the major customer, with exports worth $3.3 billion, accounting for 36 per cent of total exports for the year.
Exports to China were down from the record levels of 2019 ($3.7 billion) but were still 40 per cent higher than during 2018 ($2.3 billion).
While exports to Germany and the Netherlands decreased by 8 per cent and 21 per cent respectively, the value of exports to all other top markets increased, including to the United States, rising 20 per cent to $1.9 billion, and to the United Kingdom, up 7 per cent to $460 million.
Sheep meat exports rose by 3 per cent, to just more than 400,000 tonnes, with China the top market, followed by the UK and US. Exports to the UK increased 10 per cent by value compared with 2019.
Beef exports rose in both volume and value, to 471,718 tonnes, worth $3.7 billion, with the US the top market, up 42 per cent by value to $1.4 billion.
Beef exports to China dropped by 26 per cent compared with the record high levels of 2019, as other countries such as Brazil increased their access to China.
However, this was offset by an increase in exports to most other markets.
Co-product exports also increased slightly, up 1 per cent to $1.6 billion for the year.
During 2020, value-added halal processing continued to be a vital competent of the industry's business model.
Nearly all of New Zealand's export processing plants undertake halal processing, which allows them to export cuts from any animal to Muslim and non-Muslim customers around the world.
In the 2019-20 processing season, which covers the 12 months to the end of September 2020, New Zealand exported 417,232 tonnes of halal-certified meat, worth about $3.5billion, to 59 countries.
This represented 43 per cent of New Zealand's total exports of total red meat and edible co-products exports.
The largest market for halal-certified exports was China, taking 277,472 tonnes, which was 60 per cent of total halal-certified exports.
Other important markets for halal certified meat were Canada (19,084tonnes, 4 per cent of total halal-certified exports), Malaysia (17,721tonnes) and the US (17,531tonnes)
Meanwhile, the sector exported a total of $836.7 million worth of product during the month of December.
China was the largest December market with $379.4 million, followed by the US with $155.9 million and the UK with $38.2 million.