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Record year for lamb and mutton exports

18 January 2024

Key points:

  • Lamb and mutton exports reached their highest levels on record in 2023.
  • Beef exports lifted 27% to the highest level since 2019.
  • China was the largest market for Australian red meat overall.

Lamb and mutton

In 2023, exports of both lamb and mutton were the highest ever, at 326,014 tonnes and 209,580 tonnes, respectively.

China was the largest market, with lamb exports lifting 30% to 67,763 tonnes and mutton exports rising 70% to 97,481 tonnes over the year. China took in slightly more than half of the additional sheepmeat exported over the year, with an overall sheepmeat market share of 31%.

Outside of China, the largest increase was seen in exports to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region – the second largest sheepmeat export market for the year. After a relatively soft 2022, sheepmeat exports to the region rose 63% to 95,889 tonnes.

Exports lifted to all major importing countries across the region. Mutton exports were particularly strong, lifting 84% to 37,373 tonnes.


In 2023, Australian beef exports rose 27% to 1.08 million tonnes, the highest figure since 2019. Roughly half of this increase went to the United States, where exports lifted 84% from last year to become Australia’s largest beef market after being the fourth largest in 2022.

Japan was the second largest market for Australian beef, and the only major market where exports fell in 2023. For much of the year, a large stockpile of beef in cold storage met subdued consumer demand, slowing Australian exports. A gradual recovery in demand was seen in the last four months of the year, as the stockpile began to reduce and American beef exports to Japan declined.

Exports to China and South Korea increased 30% (206,193 tonnes) and 18% (188,924 tonnes), respectively. Indonesia was the fifth largest market, with a 74% increase in beef exports to 68,387 tonnes.

Looking forward

Exports are likely to lift further in 2024, as greater numbers come into both sides of the system. The main difference between last year and this year is that global protein availability in our key export markets is likely to be lower than seen in 2023, with US beef production continuing to decline. This means that we are likely to see demand rise as our export supplies continue to expand.