In May, the volume of lamb and mutton imported by China increased by 18% to reach 26,900 tonnes (t). The rise comes in the wake of weak imports for much of 2015, but the low price of lamb has tempted consumers away from pork – which now costs more than it has ever done before.
China’s growing middle class is largely responsible for the rise in lamb sales. Demand from this demographic has led to an overall red meat consumption increase. Pork still remains the meat of choice for Chinese consumers, but data has revealed people switching to lamb when pork is either unavailable or too expensive.
“Last year sheep meat imports fell due to high levels of cold storage stocks, high domestic supplies and pork being relatively cheap in the country,” said Mark Kozlowski, senior analyst at UK levy board AHDB Beef & Lamb.
“So far this year the pork price has risen to a record level, which has made sheep meat more competitive and led to a rise in imports again.”
The majority of lamb imported by China comes from Australia and New Zealand, while Chile and Uruguay are also certified to export.
Shipments from New Zealand increased by 18% in May to 18,400t but the total share of Chinese lamb imports from New Zealand declined by 5%. Kozlowski expects tightening supplies to impact New Zealand over the next six months and this could reduce Chinese imports from the country.
Imports from Australia grew by 38% to 8,200t with the country expanding its market share to 31%.
Volume imports of lamb in China increased by 2% year-on-year in the first five months of 2016. But the overall value of lamb exports to China has dropped by 12% and is now worth $66.1m (440.1m yuan).