US overtakes China as New Zealand’s largest red meat market for April

Weak Chinese demand for red meat is being offset by strong demand from North America, which overtook China as New Zealand’s largest export market during April, according to an analysis by the Meat Industry Association (MIA).

The sector exported red meat worth $922 million during the month, down four per cent from last April.

Exports to China were down 37 per cent to $231 million, compared to April 2023, as meat importers continue to draw down on frozen inventory built up over Covid.  China has consistently been New Zealand’s largest market since July 2018, with the exception of February 2020 when there was a significant drop at the start of the Covid pandemic.

However, exports to the US rose by 19 per cent to $261 million in April, making it the largest market for the month, and there was also a large increase in exports to Canada, up 105 per cent from to $32 million.

Livestock numbers in both the US and Canada have been declining following widespread drought.

“The growth in the US market is very positive and we are seeing encouraging signs of recovery for sheepmeat into the UK and for beef into Japan,” says MIA chief executive Sirma Karapeeva

“This underlines the importance of the New Zealand red meat sector’s diverse export market strategy.”

Both the UK and Japan continued to recover from the low levels of exports last year, with the UK up 57 per cent to $53 million and Japan up 92 per cent to $52 million.

There was a reduction in the value of exports to the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. This was largely due to a drop in the value of sheepmeat exports from very high levels last April.


Sheepmeat exports totalled 37,057 tonnes, down two per cent on last April, with value down 10 per cent to $345 million.   

The largest drop was in exports to China, with volume down 27 per cent to 16,081 tonnes and value down 44 per cent to $88 million.

Exports to the UK rose 62 per cent to $43 million and  by 38 per cent to the US, to $57 million.

This meant that China accounted for 26 per cent of sheepmeat exports by value for the month, compared to 40 per cent last April.

Sheepmeat exports to the EU were worth $89 million,  down from $104 million. However, this reflected the high prices during April 2023 and was still the second highest April figure for exports to the EU since 2018.


Beef exports remained steady year-on-year, with overall exports up two per cent by volume and value to 45,174 tonnes and $403 million. 

The US was the largest market for the month, up five per cent by volume to 17,678 tonnes and 15 per cent by value to $176 million.

Exports to China were down 21 per cent by volume to 14,347 tonnes and 34 per cent by value to $98 million.  

There was a significant increase in exports to Japan compared to last April, up 170 per cent by volume to 3,833 tonnes and 161 per cent by value to $36 million.

Japan’s significant growth in tourist numbers this year is likely a key factor in this, particularly in the food service sector. The country recorded a record 3.1 million foreign visitors in March.

Exports to Canada were up 239 per cent by volume to 2,045 tonnes and 235 per cent by value to $19 million.

Fifth quarter

Fifth quarter exports saw a slight fall, of one per cent, to $174 million. The performance of individual categories was mixed. However, there was a significant increase in exports of tallow to Singapore during April, which saw overall tallow exports rise by 86 per cent to $23 million.