In that time, 11% of New Zealand’s overseas beef sales by volume went to China, while 53% was exported to the US.
Although China’s beef imports from New Zealand are clearly far behind US sales, demand has been growing, from 593 tonnes (t), worth NZ$1.8 million (US$1.3m) in 2008, to 41,700t worth NZ$232.9m (US$171.6m) in 2014.
Meanwhile, the growth in NZ lamb exports to China has been steadier: in 2008, New Zealand exported 31,686t of sheep meat to China, worth NZ$90.4m (US$66.6m). This grew to 158,174t, worth NZ$807.2m (US$595m) in 2014.
"[The meat demand] has grown recently, leading to a significant increase in exports to China. This is highlighted by the growth in exports since the Free Trade Agreement between China and New Zealand was signed in 2008," said Sirma Karapeeva, trade and economic manager at the MIA.
She said China had also increased imports of co-products, including cattle hides and lamb pelts in recent years.
These sales may increase, with an official notice from China’s Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) noting that more New Zealand meat companies have been given permission to sell into the Chinese market. They are CMP Kokiri Ltd, and CMP Marlborough Ltd, Greenlea Premier Meats Ltd, Universal Beef Packers Ltd, Prime Range Meats Ltd, South Pacific Meats Ltd, and five subsidiaries of Silver Fern Farms Ltd - all approved for selling both beef and lamb.
A manager at the Hong Kong office of Silver Fern Farms Ltd told GlobalMeatNews: "We started the China business more than 15 years ago. We have five beef plants and seven sheep meat plants approved to China. Our market share in China has grown since 2013."
Karapeeva said China has also increased meat imports from Australia. However, Chinese consumers seem to prefer meat from New Zealand, he argued.
A sales manager from the Tianjin Li Erte Trading Company noted: "Beef from Australia is generally more expensive than other countries, therefore we recently have decreased imports from Australia." He added the current trend was for increased imports from New Zealand, Argentina and Uruguay."