According to figures provided by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), exports of red meat from the UK were worth more than £1.45 billion in 2021 – up £33 million on pre-pandemic levels, despite a challenging year for exporters.

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Speaking at AHDB’s Red Meat Conference, international market development director Dr Phil Hadley told the conference that there has “never been a more challenging time” for the UK food sector.

He said that the EU exit, the conflict in Eastern Europe, the impact of Covid and the complete shut-down of food service had increased cost of production which had created price pressures in the supply chain.

Hadley added: “But last year, red meat exports were worth £1.45 billion, providing a significant financial boost for the livestock sector and the supply chain and if we didn’t have these strong export markets, the impact would be felt all the way back to the farm. That’s why building on existing and new markets is so important for the entire livestock sector.”

Demand in Asian markets

AHDB’s head of Asia Pacific Jonathan Eckley said that despite a number of factors impacting trade last year, many markets increased imports of UK red meat – in particular, markets in Asia.

He said the Asian marketplace continues to be incredibly important for the pork sector, representing 55% of pig meat exports in 2021. Last year, pork exports to the Philippines increased three-fold and shipments to South Korea doubled.

And while China, the biggest export market for UK pork, imported 16% less pork last year than 2020, China was still home to 42% of all pork exports, with shipments of offal up 17%.

He added that while the EU remains a key market for beef exports, representing 71% of beef shipments from the UK, third country markets are growing.

Japan, which opened its doors to UK beef in 2019, also saw a 48% increase in shipments last year – which Mr Eckley said was a credit to UK exporters as it is a complex and competitive market to establish new business.

Opportunities for pork in Vietnam

Delegates also heard from AHDB market access manager Ouafa Doxon who talked about the work of AHDB, government and industry, to gain access to key target markets. She explained that discussions were ongoing with China to open the market for UK sheep meat, as well as continued efforts to secure access for pork in Vietnam.

She said: “Work has been ongoing since 2017 to open the market in Vietnam for UK pork, but when Covid hit, audits were put on hold. However, dialogue remained open which is important if you are to remain a priority market.

“We are delighted to report that this has paid off because a few weeks ago the Vietnamese authorities agreed to an audit which is expected to take place in spring of this year.”

Growing interest in the Middle East

The conference also heard from Dr Awal Fuseini, AHDB’s halal sector senior manager, who highlighted the opportunities in the Middle East and Africa for sheep meat, specifically Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Oman and Bahrain.

Dr Fuseini told delegates that the Middle East is a major meat importer – importing 90% of its beef and sheep meat. He highlighted that there is a growing interest in UK products, presenting a number of potential opportunities for exporters.

This story was originally published on a previous version of the Meat Management website and so there may be some missing images and formatting issues.