Imports of sheep meat into the European Union as a whole were down 2% on the year in the first six months of 2014 at 97,400 tonnes.

According to EBLEX it followed a surge in volumes during the same period of 2013. As such, volumes are higher than the lows of 2012 but still well below historic levels.

it says the key factor behind this decrease was reduced availability of product from New Zealand. While still the dominant source of imports into the EU, volumes of both fresh and frozen sheep meat from New Zealand were considerably down by 7% at 80,300 tonnes.

This has been driven some tightening of supplies in New Zealand and a switch in the focus of exports, with considerably more product being shipped to China at the expense of other markets (notably the UK and the rest of the EU).

Much of the reduction in the New Zealand trade was as a result of lower shipments to the UK. In the first six months of the year UK imports from New Zealand were reported as being down 15% on the year. However, during the same period of 2013 the UK was one of the few markets that could absorb increased volumes meaning shipments were relatively high. Subsequently, the trade with other markets looks to have performed slightly better as these markets are more willing to import volumes from outside of the EU once again. Import data from France, the Netherlands and Belgium all point to a significant increase in imports from New Zealand during the first six months of the year.

EBLEX analysis outlines with New Zealand continuing to fall well short of their quota allocation and volumes down so far in 2014, a number of suppliers sought to fill some of the gap. The most obvious supplier to take advantage of the situation was Australia, with shipments increasing by 43% on the year to 9,700 tonnes. There were also increased imports from Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, the Falkland Islands and Iceland. This comes as the EU is still quite an attractive market to these suppliers as it remains a relatively high value compared with a lot of other destinations. However, with much lower quota allocations and generally smaller sheep sectors (except for Australia) these suppliers are unable to fully replace the shortfall in New Zealand shipments.

With a better supply and demand position, the global trade average values have been higher, resulting in the average unit value rising to €6,100 during January to June, up from €5,400 during same period in 2013. Nonetheless, this was still lower than 2012 level when the market was very tight.