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Statistics released by Beef and Lamb New Zealand showed the total volume and value of mutton exports rose by 16% and 22% respectively, compared with the corresponding period a year ago. The average return increased by 4.9% to $5200 free on board (FOB) per tonne.
The Chinese market continued to grow rapidly. Mutton exports to China doubled in the first three months of the 2013-14 season, compared with last season's first quarter.
Total lamb exports dropped by 5.3% over the quarter, to 61,000 tonnes shipped weight. That reflected a decrease in bone-in cuts, partly offset by an increase in frozen carcasses exported to China.
The decrease in volume was offset by an 8.9% increase in average value, resulting in the total value of lamb exports rising by 3.2%.
The receipts for lamb exports averaged $8400 FOB per tonne over the quarter.
Total exports of beef and veal were almost unchanged, down 0.5% to 68,000 tonnes shipped weight, reflecting a notable 13% decline in exports to North America, although partly offset by rises in exports to Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and China.
The drop in exports to North America reflected a decrease in exports of manufacturing beef and veal, related to low bull and cow slaughter figures for the period.
The total value of beef and veal exports increased 0.5% in the first quarter, compared with the previous year.
Overall, receipts for beef and veal exports averaged $5900 FOB per tonne, which was up 1%. The average return received from China for beef and veal was larger than that from the US, at $5500 and $5200 FOB per tonne respectively.
Westpac senior economist Anne Boniface was relatively upbeat on prospects for beef prices this year, due to fairly tight global supplies.
Extended drought in the US, a major market for New Zealand, resulted in widespread culling of stock, pushing cattle numbers to multi-decade lows.
Favourable conditions for dairy producers should reduce culling of dairy cattle, meaning a sharp reduction in cattle available for slaughter, Ms Boniface said.
New Zealand beef producers should also benefit from growing demand from emerging markets as beef consumption increased as incomes grew.
That was illustrated by the surge in beef exports to China. From less than 1% in early 2012, 9% of New Zealand beef exports, by value, over the year to November 2013, were destined for China.
While China was one of the largest beef producers in the world, domestic production had struggled to keep pace with growth in demand, meaning increased demand for exports, she said.