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Analysis by the Meat Industry Association showed total exports reached $1.1billion, an increase of 12% on March 2019.
While overall exports to China in March were down 9% on the corresponding month last year, due to Covid-19, exports to all other major markets increased, a statement from MIA said.
Sheepmeat export volumes were up 4% and value up 13% compared with last March. And while sheepmeat exports to China were down 11% by volume compared with last March, they still recovered significantly from February, doubling to nearly 25,000 tonnes.
A decrease in sheepmeat exports to the United States was offset by a significant increase in exports to Malaysia, up 131% to 3310 tonnes.
There was a similar increase in beef exports, up 3% by volume and 14% by value. China was the only major market in which beef exports decreased compared with last March, but recovered significantly from February, doubling to 13,408 tonnes.
MIA chief executive Sirma Karapeeva said the statistics were pleasing, especially given the challenges and disruption to the supply chain as a result of Covid-19.
‘‘Some channels such as the food service sector have been significantly impacted. Processing and exporting companies have been agile enough to pivot to other markets and other segments such as retail and online channels.
“This strong export performance is also due to processing and exporting companies working hard under challenging conditions and strict Covid-19 processing protocols to keep their businesses operating.
“There is clearly strong global demand for protein, however, we are also mindful of the considerable global volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace,’’ she said.
A report by Westpac economists this week said the outlook for meat exports was mixed. Prices had fallen from last year’s highs as the Chinese Government responded to the outbreak of African swine fever by releasing reserves of frozen pork and allowing imports from a wider range of countries.
Those forces had abated for now, as China’s pork reserves had been run down and meat supplies from the US had slowed as the Covid-19 outbreak had forced the closure of slaughterhouses.
While that could provide some support for meat prices in the near term, the longer-term outlook for prices remained negative as demand in the traditional markets for lamb (Europe and the UK) and beef (the US) was likely to be disrupted for some time, it said.