Global demand for lamb has boosted UK red meat exports, the Agriculture and Horticulture Board (AHDB) has said.

Red meat exports from the UK in 2023 were worth £1.7 billion, the board said, largely driven by strong demand for UK lamb on international markets.

Full year figures from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) show that, in 2023, red meat exports, including offal, achieved a similar level in value to the record year of 2022.

This was underpinned by the performance of exports of sheep meat, particularly to the EU, AHDB said.

The total value of red meat shipments to the EU during the period was up 2% on the year at £1.3 billion while volumes fell by 12% on the year.

Within this, sheep meat exports to France – the UK’s largest market – was the standout with shipments increasing by 23% in value to £292 million and 23% in volume on the year to 45,000 tonnes.

Elsewhere shipments to Germany made a notable increase – up in value by 15% to £108 million and in volume by 12%. This supported the overall value of total sheep meat exports, increasing by 11.7% to £562 million.

Non-EU sheep meat exports

Sheep meat exports to non-EU markets were up 10% in volume but down 15% in value, with shipments to Ghana leading the way.

Exports to Ghana, where AHDB coordinated its first outward trade mission in 2012, experienced a year-on-year increase in volume of 11% at around 1,200t and in value by 12% to £1.4 million.

It follows successful trade missions to Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire last year to fly the flag for British red meat, set up business partnerships and meet buyers in the burgeoning markets, AHDB said.

AHDB head of international trade development, Jonathan Eckley, said: “Sheep meat exports were undoubtedly the standout success of 2023, driven by demand from high-value markets in Europe like France and evolving markets in West Africa.

“Not only does this underline the ongoing importance of the European market, particularly France, for the sheep meat sector, but also the crucial role that carcase balance plays in adding value to exports.

“Increasing the volume and value of shipments of product with little domestic demand in the UK to a broad portfolio of markets clearly underlines this.”

Beef and pig meat exports

While sheep meat exports thrived last year, beef exports decreased by 15% in volume and 9% in value, largely driven by strong domestic demand and weaker demand from Europe, AHDB said.

Exports of beef offal, critical for carcass balance, to non-EU markets did, however, increase by 12% in value and 19% in volume.

Pig meat export volumes in 2023 were down 20%, with the value falling by 9% amid lower production in the UK and subdued demand in Asia.

“While we should rightly celebrate the success of sheep meat exports in 2023, it’s also important to recognise the challenges that have faced the beef and pig meat sectors,” Eckley said.

“Lower production and subdued demand from Asia has undoubtedly impacted the pig meat sector.

“The beef sector has experienced similar challenges in terms of falling production, although exports of beef offal to non-EU markets were encouraging.

“However, exports still returned significant added value to the pork and beef sectors here in the UK, adding £570 million and £583 million respectively.”

Eckley said levy payers in AHDB’s red meat and dairy sectors have reported how much they value the board’s export development work.

“We are committed to working with industry and government to help ensure our high-quality red meat and dairy thrive on the global stage, supported through our extensive programme of trade show attendance, inward and outward trade missions and market access work. We look forward to continuing to deliver tangible benefits to the industry throughout 2024 and beyond,” he said.