While being widely recognised as Australia's largest export destination for sheepmeat, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has a growing appetite for Australian beef.
In 2011, the MENA region was Australia's largest sheepmeat export destination for the second year running despite declines in volumes from the heights of the previous year.
Lamb shipments reached 35,643 tonnes for the year (a decline of 7%) and mutton exports reached 39,699 tonnes (a decline of 8%).
At the same time, Australian beef exports have embarked on a period of explosive growth - increasing by 107% over the last two years to reach 34,310 tonnes in 2011.
The growing popularity of beef reflects social and economic changes in the region, in particular the growing financial clout of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE). Despite a population of only 8 million people, this small country ranks as one of the world's wealthiest with GDP per capita of more than $48,500.
Last year, the UAE replaced Egypt as Meat and Livestock Australia's (MLA) number one beef and lamb export market in the region, with Australian red meat imports to the country reaching 28,804 tonnes in 2011.
Beef imports in particular, increased sharply by 28% from 5,801 tonnes swt in 2010 to 7,431 swt in 2011, with chilled beef imports reaching 3,306 tonnes swt.
The UAE also almost maintained 2010 import levels of around 12,500 tonnes of Australian lamb products in 2011.
Forecasts indicate demand is likely to strengthen, with Australian red meat well placed to seize future opportunities to deliver quality beef and lamb.
In the UAE's foodservice sector alone, beef sales are expected to grow 152%, alongside a 290% increase in lamb sales by 2014. Food purchases overall are predicted to grow by 191% during the same period.
To capitalise on these shifts, MLA opened its MENA regional office in the UAE's largest city Dubai on 25 April. The office relocated across the Persian Gulf from its former location in Bahrain.