New Zealand lamb bosses have ruled out any lessening of competition in the UK when the New Zealand lamb season opens in January - while insisting they won't take advantage of the export restrictions imposed by FMD and bluetongue on British farmers.

Meat & Wool New Zealand chairman Mike Petersen, said it would be business as usual for lamb exporters, regardless of the amount of domestic lamb left over because of export restrictions.

"Our sympathies are really with British farmers over FMD and bluetongue," he said. "But realistically, this is a market, and we respond to the needs of consumers as communicated by the supermarkets. We are not about to take advantage of the situation, but will ship lamb to Europe from January to June, for the duration of the usual season."

He admitted that this stance could lead to a glut of lamb in the New Year, as British producers battled to clear hundreds of thousands of animals they hadn't been able to export.

"We don't know how big the overhang will be, so we don't know what sort of impact foot and mouth disease will have on the market," Petersen added. "It will have an impact, though."

He also revealed that the New Zealanders would be pushing retail customers hard for a significant price increase in the 2008 season.

An extra 20-30% was needed at the farm gate to keep farmers in production after a year in which prices had not even covered production costs, he said, adding that price negotiations were already under way and should be concluded by December.

However, the worldwide glut of sheepmeat could undermine efforts to improve returns, said experts. They also warned that another year of drought in Australia and the lure of a robust dairy market could force thousands of sheep farmers to liquidate herds and quit.