Meanwhile, the amount of sheep meat imports fell by 13% to 88,000t. According to Eblex, imports have exceeded exports for the “vast majority of the last 50 years”.
It said the rise in exports was being driven by strong demand for UK lamb on the European continent, with France increasing demand by 3.1% and Germany and Ireland increasing volumes by around two-thirds year-on-year, while exports to non-EU markets climbed 41% to 5,800t.
Peter Hardwick, head of trade development at Eblex, said: “Figures for 2011 show that the UK has become a net exporter of lamb. The UK is a major sheep meat producer, the largest in the EU and third in terms of global trade behind only Australia and New Zealand.
“While becoming a net exporter of lamb is a significant milestone for the industry in the UK, exports remain largely limited to trade within the EU, with non-EU exports for the period representing 5% to 6% of the total.
“The key challenge in terms of lamb exports remains access to target markets such as China, North Africa, South Africa, Russia, the US and several Middle Eastern markets. Population growth and growing affluence are presenting new opportunities for exports in developing markets in particular, but these simply cannot be exploited without market access.”