Avoidance of price-crushing oversupply in the UK sheepmeat market this year depends upon domestic output, imports and consumption together changing in ways sufficient to eradicate or absorb the usual export volume of at least 100,000 tonnes. The Irish Food Board economists are the first to publish an analysis suggesting the target will almost be met. Adding to their calculations of reduced production are newly available data on the pre-FMD UK market, showing inward shipments had been subdued. Landings from New Zealand were nearly 12% lighter in January and February than a year previously, and although the Australians shipped a greater tonnage, this increase was more than offset by reduced volume from the Netherlands and Ireland. Nevertheless, the predominant role of New Zealand suppliers is the main obstacle likely to prevent the necessary rerouting of product away from the UK. It is almost impossible to believe the New Zealanders could divert half or even a third of their usual UK-bound tonnage into continental markets, as the political reaction of the French in particular would be all too predictable. On the other hand, the Irish analysis highlights the extra space becoming available in the UK market due to FMD-related disposals, mostly of breeding stock, perhaps reducing this year's lamb crop by 17%. Availability of stock for slaughter could prove much tighter even than this crop reduction indicates, because producers may want to retain an abnormally large number of the ewe lambs for breeding flock rebuilding. Assuming 5% extra breeding retentions from the 17% smaller crop, together with the slight reduction expected in NZ supplies later this year, a surprisingly large proportion of the usual 25% of production absorbed by exports is taken out of the equation. Supply will probably still be slightly uncomfortable in the second half of the current year, especially if the beef and pork markets prove soft, but the flock rebuilding implies a tight trade for hoggets in early 2002. {{M/E MEAT }}