Japan’s sheep meat import prices remain high despite coronavirus

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TOKYO — Japan’s import prices for sheep meat remain stuck at high levels, even as prices for many other types of meat coming from abroad are falling due to a slump in the food-service industry’s sales amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Sheep meat import prices between January and February this year were up nearly 10% from the same period last year and at the highest level on record amid a tight supply-demand balance, as Chinese demand is expanding while supply from Australia, a major producer, is shrinking.

Because of strong medium- and long-term structural factors, sheep meat import prices show no sign of dropping, despite the pandemic and are likely to remain high for the time being.

Japan imports the bulk of the sheep meat consumed domestically, with more than 90% of it coming from Australia and New Zealand.

Increasing demand from China, where sheep meat is used in hot pot and many other dishes, has pushed up import prices. China is boosting sheep meat imports as domestic production cannot keep pace with consumption.

The spread of African swine fever, or ASF, has also hit China’s pork industry since the spring of last year, spurring the higher sheep meat price. Because of ASF, China has increased meat imports in general, resulting in a tight supply-demand balance.

China’s aggressive sheep meat purchases have slowed slightly since the start of this year, due to the coronavirus outbreak. But they are now starting to grow again as the infection of the virus appears to have peaked in the country.

Japanese trading firms said that the country’s sheep meat import prices had continued to hover at high levels since March.

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