US China beef exports drop
As beef exports to the US and China dropped, lamb export to the latter increased.
International demand for Australian red meat took a hit in March while live export orders were largely unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Beef exports rose month-on-month, up one per cent to 93,954 tonnes shipped weight (swt), but dropped 8pc compared to the same time last year.
Demand for Australian lamb also rose in March, up 5pc to 25,097 tonnes swt, but remained lower compared to the same time in 2019 (26,522 tonnes swt) or down five per cent.
Meat & Livestock Australia data shows Japan was the largest importer of Aussie beef, overtaking the United States, with a 16pc increase compared to March 2019, shipping 26,751 tonnes swt from Australian shores.
China came in as the second largest importer (18,328 tonnes swt), behind the US (17,183 tonnes swt), both back by 11 and 30pc, respectively, on March 2019.
Mercardo market analyst Matt Dalgleish said the figures for the first quarter of 2020 compared strongly to last year, particularly in China, where red meat demand was well above average due to the African swine fever.
"It comes off record high figures for China in 2020 where demand was 73pc higher in January compared to January 2019," Mr Dalgleish said.
"We had a dip in February with the COVID-19 lockdown and bottlenecks at ports going on, but while it was slightly lower than February 2019, it was higher than the five-year average."
"Despite lower figures this year these numbers are still very high and promising for Australian producers."
In a show of confidence, China remained the largest importer of Australian lamb, up 13pc on the same time last year to 6945 tonnes swt, behind the US (5405 tonnes swt) up 1pc on March 2019.
But while Japan remained the largest importer of beef, MLA said the country's state of emergency could bring major disruption's to Japan's foodservice sector.
While the full extent of COVID-19 is yet to be felt on the Australia's red meat market, MLA said changes to the way people in places like the US consumed beef would likely be felt in the coming months.
Ultimately, this has reduced Australian beef exports to the US (10pc down on last year), underpinned due to the closure of the fast food industry resulting in people unable or unwilling to dine-in, MLA said.
Meanwhile, global lamb prices could be challenged by the end of the year as places like the Middle East, which is dealing with lower oil prices and air-freight disruptions, emerge from tough economic conditions.
Like beef, lamb is also feeling the COVID-19 pinch as overseas restaurants known for using Australian lamb close their doors.