It is well documented that lower volumes of sheepmeat were exported from the UK in 2021, relative to 2020.

Figures released on exports of sheepmeat from the UK for December show that 7,800t of fresh/frozen primary sheepmeat was exported in December, according to data from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

This was an increase of 500t on the previous month (November), but 2,400t less than what was exported in December last year.  

According to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), Brexit is "likely a responsible reason for this".

Duncan Wyatt, lead analyst - red meat, with AHDB said: "Sheep were brought forward in to 2020 as a mitigation against a ‘hard-Brexit’, to which the sheep sector was particularly vulnerable.

"This meant more volume was available to export in December 2020 than usual, and some exporters would have sent more shipments to the EU in anticipation of increased logistical difficulties following January 1."

Source: AHDB

Throughout 2021, the UK exported 70,000t of sheepmeat (both fresh and frozen), which was 20% less than 2020.

Duncan added that even though this reflects lower production, it wasn't due to the lamb crop being smaller.

"The 2021 crop was, and will continue to be, killed in a slightly different pattern than in 2019 and 2020, with a carry-over of around 3.9 million head into 2022."


Looking at imports of sheepmeat into the UK, a similar trend could be seen with 3,900t (or 23%) less imported in December.

The main supplier of sheepmeat to the UK, New Zealand (NZ), saw a reduction of 2,100t (or -34%) than 2020.

According to Duncan, this was due to supplies constrained by Covid-19 and a flock rebuild, as well as the longer-term trend of NZ exporters pivoting towards the Chinese market.

"A trend accelerated by tightness in the global freight market, affecting both the price and availability of refrigerated shipping containers," he said.

Imports for the year as a whole were 46,500t, which was 19% less than in 2020.

Duncan said that this is the fourth year in a row that the UK has had a material trade surplus in sheepmeat.

"As a net exporter the international market, close by and further afield, will be of increasing importance. In 2021 exports were worth in excess of £438 million, more than £37/head for each clean sheep slaughtered."