ENGLISH SHEEP meat exports have continued to grow in the first six months of 2004 despite the simultaneous challenges of limited supplies, weaker demand in the most important markets and a more difficult exchange rate position.
Notwithstanding some recent decline in lamb values, this has helped maintain slaughter prices.
Latest figures from the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX) reveal UK sheep meat exports over the January-June period running at a total of 32,600 tonnes, around half coming from English-based exporters.
This represents a rise of just over 4% on the previous year and an increase of almost exactly a third on 2002.
The rate of year-on-year export expansion has clearly slowed from that achieved in the first half of 2003, reflecting the very much more challenging trading conditions.
Overall UK lamb availability in the half year was down by around 2% on 2003. At the same time demand in the principal French export market was very flat.
And sterling’s progressive strengthening against the euro substantially reduced competitiveness; most notably with Spain and Ireland who provided stiff competition at certain times.
Particularly heartening to see was the continued rise in export volumes to France which has seen three consecutive annual declines in sheep meat demand, with 2003 consumption down fully 3% on 2002 and remaining weak throughout the first half of this year.
While consumer resistance to higher retail prices may be partly to blame for this situation, changing lifestyles in France are clearly resulting in an underlying decline in expenditure on food in general and meat in particular.
Encouragingly for exports, however, domestic lamb slaughterings in France were down by 4% over the January-June period, leaving the door open for English lamb to continue its post-FMD export ban recovery to a commanding position on European consumer’s plates.
United Kingdom Sheep Meat Exports: January – June (tonnes – product weight)
% of UK Production
Source: Intrastat, Customs and Excise, GTIS