In the first quarter of the year French sheep meat import volumes have tracked below year earlier levels.

This is according to EBLEX analysts who comment that the market remains difficult on the back of the weak economic situation in France.

It says at 23,500 tonnes total French import volumes for the first three months of 2014 were down 4% on 2013 levels. This drop follows the trend of recent years and is down nearly 30% since 2009.

However, EBLEX notes that this period does not include the trade for Easter 2014, which did not fall until later in April. With Easter in 2013 at the end of March the trade figures are included in the corresponding period of 2013. As such, these figures might be somewhat distorted as the Easter period is an important one for the sheep meat trade.

EBLEX figures show that much of the overall year-on-year decline was driven by reduced volumes from the UK, with shipments down 11% on the year. Some of this decline is likely the result of lower production in the UK, which was down three per cent on the year.

Additionally, it says imports into the UK should have been lower in the first quarter, meaning that less product was available for export. Despite this fall the UK remains by far the largest supplier to the French import market accounting for over 40% of shipments.

Interestingly, the EBLEX analysis found that imports from Ireland were down by only about one per cent on the year, this coming despite Irish sheep meat production in the first quarter of the year being down eight per cent on the year.

It says some of this is likely the result of Irish sheep meat being more competitive against UK product as farmgate prices lagged behind those in the UK for some of the first quarter. Ireland remained the third largest supplier to the French import market, accounting for 15% of imports.