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Counting sheep to China | Updated: 2014-11-25 10:19

Despite its distance from the world's largest market, New Zealand, with vast flocks of sheep, is poised to plug the rapidly growing demand for the high-protein red meat in China.


At a meat processing plant in Lorneville, in the heart of New Zealand's South Island, workers are heaving more than 600 sheep carcasses into a long row of waiting reefer containers. The load will end up being served as choice lamb cuts on Chinese dinner tables.

The plant belongs to the Alliance Group, a farmer-owned co-operative and one of New Zealand' s leading meat exporters. From Lorneville, the containers will be transported by rail to nearby Port Chalmers, loaded onto a Maersk Line vessel and delivered via transhipment to the world's biggest market for sheep meat in just over 20 days.

Murray Brown, general manager of marketing for the Alliance Group, said sheep meat, particularly lamb, is a popular choice with Chinese consumers, who consider Kiwi-produced food products to be of a high quality and freshness.

Fuelled by the 2008 China-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, bilateral trade has grown at an unprecedented speed. The trade between the two countries rose to 12.39 billion U.S. dollars in 2013, with imports from New Zealand exceeding 8.25 billion U.S. dollars, a year-on-year increase of 42 percent, mainly dairy food, meat and lumber. China is now New Zealand's largest trading partner.

Gerard Morrison, managing director of the New Zealand branch of Maersk Line, the world's largest container shipping company, has witnessed the "remarkable change".

"The increase has been massive," said Morrison. "Since 2005, meat volume to China has grown by 500 percent, whereas in the dairy segment the growth is close to 800 percent."

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