The monthly value of New Zealand red meat and co-product exports topped $1 billion for the first time, according to an analysis by the Meat Industry Association (MIA).
Total exports reached $1.1 billion in March 2020, an increase of 12 percent on March 2019.
While overall exports to China for the month of March were down by nine percent compared to last March as a result of COVID-19, exports to all other major markets increased, demonstrating the agility and resilience of the New Zealand red meat sector.
Sheepmeat export volumes were up four percent and value up 13 percent compared to last March.
While sheepmeat exports to China were down 11 percent by volume compared to last March, they still recovered significantly from February, doubling to nearly 25,000 tonnes said MIA.
A decrease in sheepmeat exports to the United States was offset by a significant increase in exports to Malaysia, up 131 percent to 3,310 tonnes.
There was a similar increase in beef exports, up three percent by volume and 14 percent by value. China was the only major market where beef exports decreased compared to last March, but as with sheepmeat, they recovered significantly from February, doubling to 13,408 tonnes.
Notably, beef exports to Australia rose strongly to 1,230 tonnes, reflecting the significant two-way trade in red meat and co-products between the two countries, which is driven by supply and demand in each country and facilitated by the open trading relationship.
Chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, Sirma Karapeeva said the latest figures highlighted the New Zealand red meat sector's strong global networks and agility.
"These statistics are pleasing, especially given the challenges and disruption to the supply chain as a result of COVID-19.
"This strong export performance is also due to processing and exporting companies working hard under challenging conditions and strict COVID-19 processing protocols to keep their businesses operating," said Karapeeva.
She said there was clearly strong global demand for protein, however the sector was also mindful of the considerable global volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace.
"Now, more than ever, the red meat sector is proving how important it is to the New Zealand economy. As New Zealand's largest manufacturing sector, we are generating critical export revenue and supporting thousands of jobs and communities across the country.
"The people working in our sector, whether that's at processing plants, in sales and marketing or food technology, deserve great credit for this outstanding performance."
Overall, exports for the first quarter of 2020 were strong, up by 11 percent by value compared to the 2019 first quarter.
Total exports to China were down (10 per cent by value) but there were increases to nearly all other major markets.
Sheepmeat export volumes for the quarter were down five percent, largely driven by a 23 percent drop in the volume of exports to China.
However, the overall sheepmeat export value was up six per cent to $1.4 billion with a 13 percent drop in export value to China offset by increases to the UK, up 25 percent to $184 million, Germany, up 15 per cent to $102 million, and Malaysia up 171 percent to $61 million.
Beef exports for the first quarter were up four percent by volume and 19 percent by value compared to 2019. Again, exports to China decreased, but exports to nearly all other major markets increased in volume and value. Indonesia was particularly strong, up 174 percent by volume to 2,950 tonnes, and 189 percent by value to $13 million.