During the first six months of the year the US imported 38,700 tonnes of sheep meat, an increase of 3% on the year, according to EBLEX.

It says the increase follows a period of somewhat subdued volumes and is the highest six monthly total since 2011.

EBLEX says with availability in Australia much higher so far this year, most of the extra product was sourced from there. Australia remains the by far the largest supplier to the US market largely due to the fact that New Zealand has preferential access to the EU market, meaning they concentrate less on the US market. In the first six months of the year Australian volumes were 14% higher and accounted for 73% of US sheep meat imports.

Meanwhile, it also notes that New Zealand production has been lower and there has been a surge in volumes to China. This, combined with the increased competition from Australia, meant there was a 20% decline in shipments of New Zealand sheep meat into the US market.

Australia and New Zealand account for almost the entire US import market, with Chile, Canada and Uruguay the only other trading partners. These three countries accounted for less than 1% of imports during the first six months of 2014.

While sheep meat remains a niche component of the US meat market, EBLEX says the indication this year is that it has been more competitively priced against competitor proteins. This comes as beef, pork and poultry prices have all risen sharply this year in response to tightened supplies. The average unit value of imports during the six month period was nearly 9% higher on the year. This meant that the value of US sheep meat imports was 12% higher on the year at US$323 million

While volumes were higher across the six month period as a whole, volumes during June were down 21% on the year. With supplies set to be tight in both Australia and New Zealand for the remainder of 2014, US import volumes should be lower in the second half of the year. Despite this expected decline, the US is on course to retain its position as the fourth largest importer of sheep meat globally.