According to HMRC figures, the total value of beef, lamb and pork meat exports rose above £487 million (m) in value terms and 183,000 tonnes in volume, a 7% year-on-year increase.
The strongest performer for the UK was fresh and frozen beef, with exports rising 18% in value, mostly headed for Ireland, the Netherlands and France, with a combined value of more than £120m.
Pork exports rose 3% in value, despite a small dip in volume, with China remaining the key market for UK pig meat exports, accounting for 22% of the total volume.
Despite a slight dip in volume figures, exports of sheep meat rose nearly 1% in value to £145m, driven by high lamb prices.
France remained the UK’s biggest market for sheep exports, worth £61m this year. The average value per tonne of sheep meat exports in the year to May rose 10% on year-earlier levels.
Jonathan Eckley, Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) senior exports manager for livestock, said it was a good start, despite some of the challenges.
“It has been a good start to the year for the UK’s red meat exports despite many challenges we have faced, including tight supplies for sheep meat, which has driven up lamb prices,” he said. “Also, demand for pig meat in China has slowed this year, which has created a tough environment for our exports, but we continue to work hard to maintain our presence in this all-important market.
“2018 has seen AHDB exports working in a number of international markets to ensure that we showcase high-quality beef, lamb and pork products to global importers in existing and new markets. Further, the UK has been successful in gaining recent approval for exports to the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, gaining wider pork access, and the lifting of the beef ban in China.”
The UK has been on a charm offensive of late, welcoming officials from Japan to visit abattoirs to help provide insight on domestic food safety controls, as well as delegates from Ukraine, who learned about UK work on meat hygiene controls and food traceability.