Despite a long-standing import ban being lifted in early January, it will be some time before UK sheepmeat is available to consumers in the US, a market analyst has said.

Phil Hadley from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) described removal of the import ban as “a very significant move forward” for the sheep sector in the US market.

“However, it doesn’t mean that commercial trade is currently in place, because we still need to finalise the export health certificates and get meat plants audit-ready,” he added.

Sheepmeat from the UK was banned in the US when the “small ruminant rule” was introduced in 1989 amid concerns about scrapie and BSE.

Hadley pointed out that the ban also applied to “sheepmeat from most of Europe” and it has now been lifted for European exporters too.

Working on access

Speaking to National Sheep Association members, Hadley said the AHDB is currently working on getting access to other markets for UK sheepmeat, including Taiwan and China.

“China is now responsible for half of all New Zealand sheepmeat exports.

“That gives you some idea of the potential for growth,” he said.

However, Europe will remain the most important export market for UK sheepmeat, as it makes up 85% of total exports from the sector.

“The EU market is absolutely essential and is key to our export activities,” added David Swales from AHDB.