The United Kingdom has become a net exporter of lamb for the first time in years, according to new figures published by EBLEX.
Strong demand from the continent has resulted in sheep meat exports from the UK enjoying an 11 per cent increase on the year, totalling 98,500 tonnes product weight.
During the same period, UK sheep meat imports fell 13 per cent to 88,000 tonnes product weight. Product weight imports have exceeded exports for the vast majority of the last 50 years.
Peter Hardwick, head of trade development at EBLEX, said: “Figures for 2011 show that the UK has become a net exporter of lamb. The UK is a major sheep meat producer, the largest in the EU and third in terms of global trade behind only Australia and New Zealand.
“While becoming a net exporter of lamb is a significant milestone for the industry in the UK, exports remain largely limited to trade within the EU with non-EU exports for the period representing five per cent to six per cent of the total.
“The key challenge in terms of lamb exports remains access to target markets such as China, North Africa, South Africa, Russia, the USA and several Middle East markets. Population growth and growing affluence is presenting new opportunities for exports in developing markets in particular but these simply cannot be exploited without market access.”
The rise in demand from the continent came from a number of EU member states increasingly looking to the UK.
Exports to France accounted for 60 per cent with an increase of 3.1 per cent volume. Shipments to Germany and Ireland both increased by around two thirds year-on-year.
Significantly, exports to non-EU markets for the period were up 41 per cent year-on-year at 5,800 tonnes to destinations such as Switzerland, Norway, various African states including South Africa and Congo, Hong Kong and other Far East markets.
Further growth in non-EU markets is also expected to drive an overall increase in sheep meat exports in 2012.
However the figures might not be all good for the UK, with some farming experts pointing out that a strong export market may depress home consumption.