Dr Kelly Manton-Pearce, a research fellow at Murdoch University’s School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, visited EU countries, America, the Middle East and Asia to study sheep meat production and consumption.
While the Middle East showed strong and growing demand, she encountered barriers to trade in several markets, including China, India and the EU.
Moving the goalposts
“China’s tariff on Australian lamb is 15% for bone-in product, compared to 6.7% for New Zealand lamb—which is going down to zero by 2015 due to the NZ-China free trade agreement,” Manton-Pearce said.
“We’ve also got barriers to trade in India due to a high tariff and a phyto-sanitary barrier that needs review. This is a country that has a segment of 300 million people who primarily eat sheep meat and goat.”
As for the EU, she said protectionism led by the French Farmers Union was limiting exports into the bloc, which currently caps Australia’s bone-in import quota at 18,000 tonnes per annum—an small amount that doesn’t satisfy demand.
Manton-Pearce’s research also produced some interesting cultural insights, including China’s preference for manufacturing cuts and offal, rather than prime cuts.
“In China, lamb and sheep meat are a ‘taboo’ product thought to promote warming of the body, so consumption is recommended by Chinese doctors in winter and autumn only, when the most common lamb meal is the hotpot—basically a big lamb soup that uses the low-value breast and flap cuts.”
However, her findings were not all negative, and she was encouraged by marketing initiatives in the UK, which were aimed at increasing consumption by younger people and transforming lamb’s image from a Sunday roast option to an adaptable any-night meal.
Overall, Dr Manton-Pearce found a high regard for Australian lamb across the world.
“Australia is leading the world in lamb eating quality assurance, and importers are aware that Murdoch University is moving the product in the right direction with its research into breeding values for tenderness, intramuscular fat and lean-meat yield.
“Sheepmeat production has a great future. We simply need producers and politicians to continue to make informed decisions based on an understanding of our markets.”