Significant opportunities have been identified for market growth in New Zealand sheepmeat exports to the Unites States, with high quality chilled beef also finding a niche market among US consumers.
This positive news for farmers comes from the trade policy team of Beef + Lamb NZ (BLNZ), which provides regular updates on the US trade market for farmers, ongoing work with US counterparts and potential US trade action.
The US is a key market for both beef and sheepmeat exports, with 36% of NZ beef exports by value heading to the US in 2023, and 15% of sheepmeat exports.
NZ’s beef exports are mainly frozen manufacturing beef, which is blended with US fatty trim and mixed into hamburger meat.
BLNZ general manager policy and advocacy Dave Harrison said this provides a consistent and valuable market for lean beef originating from the dairy industry.
NZ’s high quality chilled beef is also finding a niche market among US consumers who are searching for grass-fed, high animal welfare products.
Over the past few years exports of chilled beef to the US have increased from NZ$52 million in 2019 to $133m in 2023.
Harrison said while sheepmeat consumption per capita in the US is relatively low, it is growing quickly and there are significant opportunities identified for market growth.
In 2023, NZ exported 27,500 tonnes of sheepmeat to the US, worth NZ$544m. This was down slightly from a record level of exports in 2022.
But still the US remains one of NZ’s highest value markets in 2023, with exports worth $18.04/kg (FoB), compared to an average of $9.67/kg across all NZ exports markets this year.
BLNZ engages directly with its US counterparts in the sheep and beef industries and recently attended the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) convention held in early January in Colorado.
At this year’s convention, BLNZ and Sheep Producers Australia were invited to present to the American Lamb Board on sustainability.
BLNZ senior environmental policy analyst Madeline Hall and BLNZ’s US relationship manager, Jason Frost, attended the event and provided an overview of the industry’s activities and outlined the challenges and opportunities the sector is facing domestically.
Meanwhile one of two recent trade actions that were launched by separate US producer organisations to restrict NZ lamb imports into America has been dropped.
Last year, the ASI engaged a law firm to explore its allegations of harm from NZ and Australian sheepmeat imports.
At the ASI convention and then in subsequent media reports, ASI leadership indicated that they would not further pursue any action against Australia and NZ as the costs of action were deemed to outweigh any benefit the US industry would gain.
While this is a welcome development, Harrison said, BLNZ and the Meat Industry Association (MIA) are keeping abreast of developments.
The second trade action from R-CALF, an organisation that represents both US sheepmeat and cattle producers, separately petitioned the US Trade Representative (USTR) to launch an investigation into NZ and Australian sheepmeat imports.
To date there has not been any commitment from USTR on whether or not it will proceed with an investigation.
“Despite this, we continue to work closely with NZ officials and MIA to reduce the risk to NZ farmers and processors,” Harrison said.
“Our view on both of the trade issues is that many of the challenges that the US sheep industry faces, such as internal parasites, rising input costs, and competition from other land uses, are also common to NZ farmers and we should be working together to address them.”
The US currently has a low per capita consumption of lamb, although this is rapidly changing and provides opportunities for both domestic and imported sheepmeat.
Harrison said by working collaboratively to grow the market for lamb in the US, there is plenty of room for both imported and domestically produced lamb.
“BLNZ’s trade policy team will continue to monitor the situation and look to further increase co-operation with US sheep producers on areas where we have mutual interest.”