UK sheepmeat exports declined overall in the year to January, but increased 45% to non-EU markets, EBLEX has revealed.

Overall export volumes of mutton and lamb fell by 8% to 7,025t, but increased to non-EU markets from 1,127t to 1,637t, with Hong Kong the biggest destination outside Europe and the second biggest overall.

Non-EU markets now account for almost a quarter of exports, compared with 15% a year ago, according to EBLEX, and Hong Kong accounts for 19% of the non-EU market, feeding increasing demand from the Chinese market.

Meanwhile, exports to France, the UK’s biggest overseas market, fell in the year to January from 4,398t to 5,306t, mainly due to the poor economic climate dampening French appetites for more expensive meat.

See also: UK sheep farmers urged to boost flocks for exports

While European consumers continued to watch their spending and shy away from relatively expensive meat like lamb, demand remained high from rising middle classes in South East Asia and Africa, said Jonathan Eckley, senior analyst at EBLEX.

Although it would be difficult for farmers to individually make use of expanding export markets, said Mr Eckley, if the industry as a whole could work to be more competitive this would improve farmgate demand from both in and outside of Europe.

Added value to the whole carcass was being created by demand for offal, cheaper meat cuts and bones from non-EU markets, he said. This provided processors with the opportunity to pay producers a higher price.

Imports were also up, from 7,461t to 8,268t.

More on this topic: Government advice on exporting farm produce