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The American dream - of New Zealand Lamb

American consumers have always been a hard sell when it comes to lamb, but Meat New Zealand's Washington-based representative Andrew Burtt says they continue to come around as New Zealand Lamb exports to the US increased by 25 percent in the first quarter of 2003.

The increase is accounted for by strong demand for New Zealand Lamb in the US this year, coupled with a good supply of suitable lambs in New Zealand, Burtt said. "The US lamb industry is currently experiencing record prices for feeder and slaughter lambs, and New Zealand Lamb is helping to fulfil that demandthat demand. However because of the relative strength of the New Zealand dollar compared with the greenback, the EU lamb market still remains a most attractive and very competitive proposition for our lamb."

Burtt said while lamb consumption overall in the US is still low at around one pound/ 500 grams per capita annually, the recent US Lamb Summit in San Angelo, Texas proves there is both a willingness and a desire to increase that figure. "The summit was attended by representatives of the governments and key lamb industry organisations from Australia, US and New Zealand. We all agreed that because of the low tariff and no quantitative restrictions, the US lamb market is very open."

The US representatives were interested in specific examples of how New Zealand and Australia had grown markets for lamb in other countries, Burtt said. "We all believe that there are significant growth opportunities in the US and that an increase in consumption will benefit all three supplying countries' industries."

"With the huge size of the US population, there are many geographic and demographic niches that can be explored and even a small increase in per capita consumption will have obvious benefits for New Zealand Lamb industry. The belief is that some of our successful market development techniques for lamb that have worked elsewhere can be transferred to the US," Burtt said.

"Planning is underway for a further meeting to be held in Washington DC in September where further consideration will be given to establishing a Three Nations Lamb group, which will run along the same lines as the Five Nations Beef Conference. This will provide a more formal forum for developing future cooperation between New Zealand, Australian and US lamb producers on issues in the US lamb market," he said.

"While there is still some resentment among US farmers over New Zealand and Australian lamb imports, this must be considered a very positive move for the industry in the US and one we all hope will increase overall demand for lamb in America."

The US is currently New Zealand's fourth most valuable lamb market, worth $241.7 million FOB, Burtt said.

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