Global sheepmeat output will rise very slightly this year but the major lamb-producing nations will turn out less lamb, the United Nations has forecast.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has predicted production to grow 0.5% to 13.96m tonnes in 2014.

Asia and Africa will lead the way with 1% and 2% increases, with China growing by 0.6%.

But European production is forecast to shrink 0.3%, while Australia and New Zealand will produce 4% and 9% less respectively.

See also: New Zealand lamb heads to China

AHDB/EBLEX senior analyst Paul Heyhoe said growth was in the places like Africa and India that do not import or export much lamb, so global supplies would remain tight.

New Zealand and Australia account for 80-85% of world sheepmeat exports if internal EU trade is excluded, so global exports could drop 4% in 2014.

“Where production is falling that is where the vast majority of trade and production is,” Mr Heyhoe said.

“It is a much tighter global situation which, making the assumption of good demand, will provide support for European prices and those in Australia and New Zealand.”

The FAO’s predictions run counter to strong Australian performance in the first quarter this year, with production up 9% and exports up 20%.

But New Zealand is still suffering from drought, which saw the country’s sheep flock fall 2% to 30.8m head in the June 2013 livestock survey.

Import levels in the UK’s biggest sheepmeat customer, France, were also 4% down in the first three months of 2014, with shipments from the UK down 11% on the year.

Mr Heyhoe said there were still question marks over the French economy but the impact on the UK should not be dramatic.

“We have seen some diversification of our exports so we are sending our lamb to other stronger European markets like Germany and [non-European] ones as well,” he said.