With COVID-19-related disruptions to global markets expected to continue for a while yet, the Meat Industry Association is warning against growing complacent.
Red meat exports to China fell 25 percent in the third quarter period of July to September, to $530 million, despite the value of sheepmeat and beef exports to the country remaining at a historic high.
Overall exports for the third quarter were $1.69 billion, unchanged from the same period in 2019.
For the year ending September, exports were up 8 percent to $9.39 billion compared to the previous year.
Red meat exports to the United States grew 50 percent over the quarter, compared to the same time a year earlier, reaching $400 million.
Exports to the United Kingdom were also up 42 percent ($71 million), and those to Germany rose 25 percent ($70 million).
Overall for the month of September red meat exports were worth $501 million, down 6 percent on the same month in 2019. Exports to China and Japan both dropped in September, though those to the US, UK and Germany were up.
Sheepmeat exports to the US, Germany and the UK rose, as did beef exports to the US and Canada.
Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, said despite the drop in exports to China she expected things to pick up in the coming months.
"There are indications that demand in China will continue to increase and we anticipate strong buying patterns as China prepares for its Chinese New Year celebrations next year," Karapeeva said on Wednesday.
She said there had been a shift from chilled to frozen product for sheepmeat, as COVID-19 had brought challenges to the global food service sector and more people were buying from retail outlets or online.
"There was also some re-balancing to other markets from the record levels that were going to China last year. This demonstrates the industry’s ability to adjust product specifications and destinations to meet the demand from our global markets."
Despite the red meat sector being "a real success story during the COVID-19 crisis" Karapeeva said she still had concerns about what uncertainty in the markets would bring going forward.
"We cannot be complacent. We are yet to see the full economic and social impact of COVID-19. With the UK, Europe and parts of the US going into a second lockdown, we can expect further disruptions in our global markets.
"We are also concerned about potential disruptions to shipping lines from Europe, the impact of the last drought in New Zealand and the prospect of extreme dry conditions in the coming months," she said.
"This means the uncertainty and volatility will continue for some time."