The UK has become a net exporter of lamb for the first time in 17 years, EBLEX figures have revealed.
Strong demand for home-produced lamb in European and non-EU markets meant total 2011 sheepmeat exports were up 11% on the year at 98,500t, while imports fell 13% to 88,000t.
Imports have exceeded exports (by product weight) for the vast majority of the past 50 years and the last time the UK was a net exporter was 1995.
France, which accounted for 60% of UK exports, bought 3.1% more sheepmeat last year, while shipments to Germany and Ireland were both up by around two-thirds year-on-year, EBLEX said.
Exports to non-EU markets were up 41% to 5,800t, although this remained a relatively minor destination for UK sheepmeat, accounting for just 5-6% of the total. The main destinations were Switzerland, Norway, various African states including South Africa and Congo, Hong Kong and other Far East markets.
“The UK is a major sheepmeat producer, the largest in the EU and third in terms of global trade behind only Australia and New Zealand,” Peter Hardwick, head of trade development at EBLEX, said.
“The key challenge in terms of lamb exports remains access to target markets such as China, North Africa, South Africa, Russia, the USA and several Middle East markets.
“Population growth and growing affluence is presenting new opportunities for exports in developing markets in particular, but these simply cannot be exploited without market access.”