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China pips Britain as NZ's top buyer

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 12:32 22/02/2013
Chinese meat sellers
Fairfax NZ

VALUABLE TRADE: Meat sellers prepare to serve customers in China, which is now the biggest buyer of New Zealand sheepmeat.

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A shift in market forces has seen China emerge as New Zealand's largest customer for sheepmeat.

Chinese demand for sheepmeat rose nearly 80 per cent last year to knock off the United Kingdom in the position as the top receiver of sheepmeat by volume.

The Chinese fondness for hot pots - a traditional stew often with thinly sliced meat - and other dishes requiring less expensive cuts of sheepmeat has driven demand.

Meat Industry Association chief executive Tim Ritchie said meat companies had been plotting the strengthening trade to China and this had increased in pace more lately.

He said Chinese buyers value different parts of the sheep carcass and that had generated less meat products going to the rendering process.

"China is now our single largest market by volume, but not by value. That's a real change just as the United States was a major buyer of manufacturing beef and now takes just under half of our exports with more sold in Asia."

Other Asian centres such as Malaysia had strengthened the last two years, he said.

"But it's China which has really picked up even though we don't have full trade access."

China consumed 77,610 tonnes of sheepmeat last year to take the pole position, amassing 22.2 per cent of all sheepmeat exports, followed by the UK on 65,060 tonnes for a 18.7 per cent share.

Behind the leaders were Germany, the US, Saudi Arabia and France.

The United Kingdom still led by value, despite the European Union being hit hard by economic woes, followed by China.

The downturn eroded the UK's position as a valuable market with sales declining also in the top nine markets except for China, which rose by 78.1 per cent. In the top nine were the European nations of the UK, Germany, Netherlands, France and Belgium.

Indonesia had been a rapidly growing market for New Zealand, rising to No 2 for beef at one stage, but political motivations had seen this fall away lately.

Ritchie said Europe remained an important sheepmeat buyer for New Zealand and was a high-value market with its preference for higher priced chilled meat.

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