Since 2009, EU live sheep exports to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) increased nine fold to reach over 2m head, according Declan Fennell of Bord Bia.

He says this accounts for two thirds of the global live sheep trade.

Fennell says the MENA has a strong preference for live sheep imports due to cultural preferences, religious festivals and out of necessity where a poorly developed cold chain infrastructure is challenged in handling fresh and frozen meat.

Fennell also says European exporters have also benefited from a reduced supply of Australian live exports into the MENA region.

In 2009, Australian live exports stood and 3.5m head, by 2013 this had almost halved to 1.97m.

According to Fennell, since the introduction of the ESCAS (Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Systems) in 2012, Australian live exporters are required to follow strict protocols in the transport and movement of live sheep, and hence trade numbers have been curtailed.

He also says a recent GIRA study, reported that demand has surged ahead thanks to the re-entry of Libya into the live market and the growing influence of oil rich countries.

“Given demand peaks around EID and Ramadan festivals, this explains the seasonal price spikes. This heightened demand has a positive ripple effect on driving demand and farmgate prices within the European sheep trade,” he says.

In the context of EU live sheep exports, a total of 1.9mn head were exported in the first eight months of 2014. Fennell says this live trade was dominated by Romania (1,297,600 head), Spain (475,400,000 head) and France (37,000 head).

Looking ahead into 2015, Fennel forecasts that there is no doubt that demand for live sheep from MENA will continue to draw the attention of the European live sheep trade. However, he also says the impact of falling oil prices may have an impact on global prices.