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 (MIA).

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

While overall exports to China for the month of March were down by nine per cent compared to 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 four per cent and value up 13 per cent compared to last March. And while sheepmeat exports to China were down 11 per cent by volume compared to last March, they still recovered significantly from February, doubling to nearly 25,000 tonnes.

A decrease in sheepmeat exports to the United States was offset by a significant increase in exports to Malaysia, up 131 percent to 3,310 tonnes.

There was a similar increase in beef exports, up three percent by volume and 14 percent by value. China was the only major market where beef exports decreased compared to last March, but as with sheepmeat, they recovered significantly from February, doubling to 13,408 tonnes.

Notably, beef exports to Australia rose strongly to 1,230 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.

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

“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.

“This strong export performance is also due to processing and exporting companies working hard under challenging conditions and strict COVID-19 processing protocols to keep their businesses operating.

“There is clearly strong global demand for protein, however we are also mindful of the considerable global volatility and uncertainity 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.”

Exports for first quarter strong

Overall, exports for the first quarter of 2020 were strong, up by 11 per cent by value compared to 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 five per cent, largely driven by a 23 per cent drop in the volume of exports to China.

However, the overall sheepmeat export value was up six per cent to $1.4 billion 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 $102 million, and Malaysia up 171 per cent to $61 million.

Beef exports for the first quarter were up four percent by volume and 19 percent by value compared to 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 2,950 tonnes, and 189 percent by value to $13 million.

Annual exports positive

Annual exports were also strong, up by seven per cent to $9.3 billion for the past 12 months. Total exports to China increased by 36 per cent by value, despite the impact of COVID19 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 $400 million and Australia up 6 percent to $174 million.

While the overall volumes of sheepmeat decreased seven per cent to 383,126 tonnes compared to the previous March year, the value increased by two percent to $4 billion for the year. China was up 18 per cent to $1.5 billion and most other markets were down, apart from Malaysia -- up 67 per cent to $94 million.

Beef volumes were up four percent to 465,208 tonnes. China took the lead up by 52 per cent to 208,881 tonnes and Japan eight per cent to 20,458 tonnes, but most other markets dropped compared to the previous March year. Notably, volumes to Switzerland increased by 101 per cent to 5,093 tonnes.

The value of beef exports was up 18 per cent to $3.8 billion. 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 $40 million.