Latest trade figures for April show that Chinese imports of sheep meat are still showing little sign of slowing with an increase of 63 per cent on the year at 36,900 tonnes.

According to EBLEX analysts, at this level April represents a record high monthly import volume, having smashed the previous record of 32,100 tonnes set in June 2013. It comes as the seemingly insatiable demand for sheep meat imports in China continues to result in exporters shifting their focus away from other markets in order to service the Chinese market.

EBLEX note that all three suppliers to the mainland Chinese market shipped increased volumes. New Zealand remains by far the largest supplier to the market, being the only one with a Free Trade Agreement in place with China, accounting for 70 per cent of volumes − up from 65 per cent last April and having shown a 74 per cent increase on the year.

Australia accounted for 28 per cent of shipments, down from 33 per cent in April 2013, after showing only a 40 per cent increase in shipments on the year. Uruguay remains by far the smallest supplier, accounting for only two per cent of volumes. However, shipments from there continue to show good growth, being 50 per cent higher on the year.

In addition to showing further growth, EBLEX says the evolution of the trade has seemingly continued. While an exact breakdown of the cuts being shipped is unavailable, reports from both Australia and New Zealand continue to point to rising volumes of higher value cuts, such as legs, being sent to China. The key thing the official statistics show is the continued increase in shipments of carcases, or half carcases.

During April alone China imported 8,700 tonnes of carcases, compared with only 500 tonnes in the same period of 2013, and only one tonne in April 2012. At this level, carcase imports into China accounted for almost 24 per cent of the total volume, compared with only two per cent in April of last year.