AUSTRALIAN lamb has become the unlikely casualty of the bitter dispute between China and South Korea over the deployment of the United States-led missile defence system.
Lamb exports have boomed in the past three years thanks to South Korea’s latest culinary craze “yanggochi”, or barbecued skewered lamb, which is inseparably paired with Chinese imported Tsingtao beer.
The food addiction has led to the opening of more than 3000 Korean lamb restaurants in recent years, translating to a significant jump in Australian lamb exports to Korea from only 1639 tonnes shipped weight (swt) in 2006, to 8970 tonnes swt last year. The value of lamb exports exceed $49 million last year.
The union of Tsingtao and Australian lamb has become a culturally significant force in South Korean drinking culture.
During Meat and Livestock Australia’s (MLA) recent Global Markets Forum in Melbourne, international business manager for Korea Andrew Cox said global politics was influencing lamb demand.
“That’s great but if you only align with a single trend, you’re in danger,” Mr Cox said.
Escalating tension over China’s furious pushback to the United States military deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile defence system has sparked a boycott movement against Chinese products.
Chinese beer Tsingtao is becoming the main target of the boycott which is set to damage lamb skewer consumption because of popular culinary pairing of the two.
“If this takes off, you will instantly see a decline in our sheepmeat sales to Korea because people are boycotting the product that goes well with Chinese beer,” he said.
Mr Cox said MLA were mitigating risk by diversifying the market, working with restaurants and retail to further promote Australian lamb.
He said since 2015, MLA had grown promotions from two accounts to six last year.
“It is pretty clear Korea is an exciting market for lamb and I don’t think many people would have forecast three years ago we would have more than 10,000t swt sheepmeat in Korea,” he said.
“Those that have been around for a long time would know that there are some markets that are just fads so the whole of industry in Korea needs to work hard to ensure we do the best we can to diversify that market to make a sustainable long-term market for Australian sheepmeat.”
MLA in-market reports attribute part of the market growth to expansion in the foodservice and retail sectors, with several Korean hypermarkets now selling chilled product in store.
Lamb and mutton have been perceived as unpalatable by Koreans in the past due to the meat having a reputation as being strong in flavour and smell, as well as the perception of live lambs being cute.
“We are trying to work hard to make this a sustainable market for lamb,” Mr Cox said.
“Now that lamb has the knowledge and awareness we need to try and diversify our spread in that market.”