THE Middle East accounted for almost 100,000 tonnes of Australian sheepmeat last year.
Record exports in November established the region as Australia's No.1 lamb destination for the third year in a row.
While saleyard rates languished, lamb exports boomed as increased sales to the Middle East, China and the US underpinned renewed demand worldwide.
End-of-year figures are yet to be crunched, but the Middle East has continued to import Australian lamb at an incredible rate. The region also took 42,457 tonnes of mutton until the end of November.
This has been buoyed by lower saleyard values and bigger volumes of kill sheep hitting the market.
While mutton exports are up 22 per cent year on year, it is lamb where the biggest gains have been made.
Figures to the end of November show 47,199 tonnes of lamb were sent to the Middle East. That is 51 per cent higher than 2011 and 67 per cent above the five-year average.
Due to 3343 tonnes being sent in the first three weeks of December, this figure should go much higher.
Meat and Livestock Australia sheepmeat analyst Robert Barker said many countries increased their intake of lamb last year.
"There's been significant growth in sheepmeat exports to the Middle East but it's not the only market to experience this," Mr Barker said.
"There has been strong growth to China and a recovery in volumes to the US and Papua New Guinea."
Mr Barker said some markets, including Hong Kong, South Africa and the EU, which is New Zealand's major export destination, had backed off.
"Total sheepmeat exports for 2012 are well above 2011 figures and that's mainly due to the much higher slaughter and production," he said.
"The lower price of lamb and mutton has also definitely helped move product through the supply chain."
In 2011, lamb shipments to the Middle East totalled 34,987 tonnes, ahead of the US, at 34,334 tonnes.
By mid-December, 184,542 tonnes of lamb had been exported, meaning Australia sent a record amount of lamb overseas last year.
Asia took 50,391 tonnes to the end of November while China accounted for 26,641 tonnes.