Where does New Zealand sit in the world of wool?

Wool is in the news for all the right reasons lately. Where do we sit on the world stage?

The stats I researched for this paper tell quite a different story to the one I have been telling myself about our place in the world of wool.

I have looked at wool from several different perspectives:

  • Numbers of sheep by country
  • Wool clip by weight by country
  • Exporting of wool by weight by country
  • Importing of wool by weight by country

In looking at the different sources of information, they often conflict, so take these claims below with the appropriate credence. Imagine, as an example, counting the number of sheep accurately in some of these far-flung countries. I have used the most recent statistics I can find on the web.

Numbers of sheep, 2018, rounded

Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, FAOSTAT

Not being racist here, but the count of sheep might include sheep that look more like goats. For instance, in China, according to a colleague of mine who is doing sheep research there, the Chinese name for sheep and goat are one-and-the-same!

Checking the same source for the number of goats in China, they say they have another 138,000,000 goats on top of the 164,000,000 sheep.

As well, not all the sheep we are counting above produce wool. Some produce no wool, and some produce a more hair-like offering.

Still, we are number 8 on the list above. China has 6 times more sheep than New Zealand and Australia 2 and a half times as many. The UK has more sheep than us. We are not that impressive, but it gets better from here. See below.

Wool production, 2018, metric tonnes, rounded

Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, FAOSTAT

China is the big boy in wool production world-wide today surpassing Australia. A lot of the stats I saw still had Australia as number one but no, China has crept ahead in recent years.

Australia is number one in terms of fine wool production world-wide and New Zealand is number one in terms of cross-bred coarse wool production.

Export of wool by weight, 2018, tonnes

Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, FAOSTAT

South Africa was exporting more wool than New Zealand in 2018. I am not sure what the trend is since then, but we were always number two in wool exports worldwide.

In 1990 New Zealand produced 226,000 tonnes, about double produced by South Africa.

A key fact for me is that we don’t really have too much in common with our two other southern hemisphere cousins in the wool production stakes given that South Africa and Australia produce predominantly fine wool for apparel and we produce coarse wool for carpets, blankets and other manufacturing needs.

We could team up with Argentina in promoting coarse wool?

Importers of wool, 2018, by weight

Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, FAOSTAT

There is an elephant in the room when it comes to who wants to buy our wool. Let us not be too precious about who we do business with. We may not agree with the internal politics of China, or India, for that matter, but we must trade with them.

Trade is the great leveler. Without trade we do not eat. If we do not eat, we die.

Keep asking great questions …