Shipments of sheep meat to China during the first half of 2016 reached 139,400t, up 7% on the previous year, according to the AHDB (the English body for beef and lamb).

While Ireland does not have access to the Chinese sheep meat market, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, is planning a trade mission to China later this year.

The trade mission will also visit Vietnam and Singapore and is planned for September.

Minister Creed’s predecessor, Simon Coveney said previously that exports of food and drink from Ireland to China are set to increase tenfold over the next decade.

Irish food and drink exports to China amounted to approximately €500m in 2015, double what it was in 2012.

Coveney predicted that he could see no reason why the value of food and drink exports from Ireland to China could not reach €5 billion by 2025.

Sheep Meat Imports

Despite the improvement in imports of sheep meat into China this year, figures released by the AHDB show that levels are still well below those seen in 2014.

However, shipments in June 2016 moved above the same month from 2014 for the first time this year.

The AHDB outlined that imports from New Zealand were up by 12% to 95,700t, increasing the share of Chinese sheep meat imports coming from New Zealand to 69%. Meanwhile, volumes coming from Australia actually fell by 3%, to 42,100t.

The rise in imports so far this year is due to tightening supplies of sheep meat within China, combined with current high prices for pork which are leading people to switch to lamb, according to the AHDB.

While volumes increased in this period, the average unit price for lamb actually fell by 26% in yuan terms. This left the overall value of sheep meat imports to China down by 21%.