Meat & Livestock News

UK’s Sheep Meat Import Patterns Shift in 2023, with Australian Imports Surging as New Zealand’s Decline


  • In 2023, the UK witnessed an 11% reduction in overall sheep meat imports, with a significant decrease from New Zealand and an increase from Australia.
  • The change is attributed to new trade agreements with both countries and Australia’s enhanced competitiveness due to increased production and favourable trade terms.
  • Despite a general decline in imports, Australia’s share grew by 19%, influenced by lower prices and strategic trade advantages.

The UK’s importation of sheep meat saw notable adjustments in 2023, as reported by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). The total volume of sheep meat brought into the UK decreased by 11% compared to the previous year.

This change was marked by a 19% reduction in imports from New Zealand, traditionally the UK’s primary source of sheep meat. In contrast, imports from Australia experienced a 19% increase, underscoring a shift in supply sources.

This shift in import patterns was significantly influenced by the initiation of trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand towards the end of May 2023. While New Zealand has historically led as the UK’s main supplier of sheep meat, it has faced challenges such as a shrinking sheep population and diversification of its export markets.

Australia, conversely, reported a rise in sheep meat production in 2023, which, coupled with competitive pricing and the benefits of a free trade agreement, enhanced its position in the UK market.

Global trade dynamics, especially with major markets like China, the Middle East, and the United States, also play a crucial role in determining the flow of sheep meat imports into the UK. Demand fluctuations during significant cultural and religious events can redirect surplus products to international markets, including the UK.

In 2023, New Zealand’s contribution to the UK’s sheep meat imports dropped to approximately 26,500 tonnes, down by 6,000 tonnes from 2022, reducing its market share from 60% to 55%. The most notable decrease was observed in the import volumes of frozen sheep legs from New Zealand.

On the other hand, Australia’s exports to the UK increased to 11,400 tonnes in 2023, marking an upsurge of 1,800 tonnes from the previous year. This growth was particularly pronounced in the latter half of the year, following the activation of the free trade agreement.

Looking forward, Australian lamb slaughter rates are anticipated to marginally rise in the early months of 2024, continuing the high production trend set in 2023. However, production levels in the latter half of the year are expected to dip as the high slaughter rates of the previous year begin to impact future production capabilities.

The evolving import trends of sheep meat into the UK highlight the significant impact of international trade agreements, market demands, and production capacities on the global sheep meat industry.