UK sheepmeat exports in the first half of 2014 were the highest for 16 years.

In the first six months of the year, 48,000t were sold abroad – the most for this period since 1998.

Shipments were 2% higher on the year by volume and their value rose 3% to total £183.9m.

Destinations outside Europe grew in importance, with non-EU exports increasing 36% to reach 10,600t.

Eblex head of trade development Peter Hardwick said the positive first-half performance built on a strong 2013, in which exports broke the 100,000t barrier for the first time since 1999.

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“Increases in exports to the Far East have been particularly encouraging, while other key markets outside the EU included Ghana, Congo and the Ivory Coast in West Africa and Norway and Switzerland in Europe,” he said.

“Export values are also up 3%, indicating a strong performance, despite slightly unfavourable trading conditions in terms of currency.”

Last week Eblex figures also showed sheepmeat imports were down 7% in the first half of the year.

Supplies from New Zealand were 15% lower, as the world’s top exporter switched some of its trade towards China, but imports from Australia were 41% up.