Latest data on lamb and beef exports from the UK suggest trade is improving after a slow start to the year.

Volumes exported, however, were significantly lower than the corresponding period last year, and demand in many export markets remains uncertain due to coronavirus restrictions on the foodservice sector.

A total of 4,450 tonnes of fresh and frozen sheep meat were exported in February 2021, up 29.4 per cent when compared to January but down by 27.8 per cent on the year.

The volume of fresh and frozen beef exported was 4,150 tonnes, a significant increase of 80.9 per cent on January 2021, but still 59 per cent less than February last year.

As a result, the value of both beef and sheep meat exports during February were naturally lower, down by 15.9 per cent and 67.8 per cent respectively.

Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) data analyst, Glesni Phillips commented: “It came as no surprise that export volumes were down in January, with significant stockpiling having taken place in late-2020 and many businesses dealing with changes to export rules. This new data suggests, however, that trading patterns are improving.

“The UK’s top five major export markets for sheep meat received less product from the UK during the first two months of 2021 due to a decrease in demand as a result of the pandemic and post-Brexit logistical issues at the border. Domestic supplies were also tight, with production during January and February down by 15.4 per cent on the year, and strong demand from British retailers.”

At the same time, import volumes of sheep meat in February fell by 27.1 per cent on the month due to a smaller shipment from Ireland – down 67.8 per cent when compared to February 2020 – while volumes received from New Zealand and Australia were above last year’s levels due to the earlier Easter period in 2021.

Import volumes for beef were also down by 6.8 per cent on the month, and 39.6 per cent lower than the same period last year, with less imported beef arriving from Ireland and Poland.

Ms Phillips added: “It is too early to predict the direction of travel for trade in 2021, but these early figures suggest that export and import levels may slowly even out with time. This will of course depend on a number of factors, including the implications of Covid-19 and demand from consumers and the foodservice sector in the UK and abroad.”