Market Morsel: Is there a sheep conversion in the middle east?

Livestock | 19th April 2023 | By Andrew Whitelaw

Market Morsel

At EP3, we care most about the data. We tend to avoid the emotive side of discussions, as it confuses and heats up the topic.

That being said, we are no strangers to analysing ‘controversial’ topics. We just put out the straight data based on what we have looked at or what others have requested and think will be interesting. The interesting topic at the moment is the live export of sheep, which has been bereft of actual data even from the industry.

So anyway. We got a request to write an article on the trade of boxed sheep meat to the middle east. This request came from an ‘animal rights advocate’ on Twitter. Their view was that the middle eastern countries were moving to boxed sheep meat.

As always, when I get something interesting to look at, I decide to delve into it. Regardless of who provides the question.

Let’s start by explaining what I am looking at. In the charts below, I am looking at the total sheep meat going into selected major importing middle eastern countries (Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE), using data from UN Comtrade.

This is the total from all countries, not just Australia. Our sheepmeat industry does not operate in a vacuum. Whilst boxed sheep to ME from Australia may have increased, it isn’t the full picture.

The first chart below shows the composition of the value of both boxed and live sheep. There was only one year in the period 2013 to 2021 where boxed sheep meat values exceeded that of live sheep.

This can be seen in the second chart. Over the period, sheep live exports to these combined nations have been 55% of trade (by value).

This supports some points in an earlier article (Sheep Live Export – A dying industry). The sheep meat trade in the middle east is still concentrated on live animals. It will be challenging to change their consumer preferences and require hard work from all parties in the sheep supply chain.

These current panels are focused on working on the best approach to shutting down the sheep live export industry; they are probably not the correct forums to campaign against the closure – that should be done elsewhere. As it is not in their terms of reference to turn around the decision, you’d be wasting your energy.

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