U.S. potato shipments are for the first time reaching Mexican importers beyond the 26-kilometer limit established by Mexico years ago, marking the start of increased trade that will boost U.S. exports by tens of millions of dollars, according to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“This is an important moment for the U.S. potato industry and our partners in the federal government who have fought for decades to restore access to this vital market, but we know the work is not over if we are to keep the border open,” said National Potato Council President Jared Balcom.

It was more than twenty years ago that Mexico agreed to open its borders to U.S. potatoes, but the government insisted that the spuds could only be sold within 26 kilometers of the border because of pest and disease concerns. It took about a decade of talks, but Mexico eventually agreed to open trade beyond the 26-kilometer restriction in return for the U.S. allowing the country to enter into negotiations to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But Mexican potato producers were incensed at the deal that they never agreed to and quickly filed several lawsuits that prevented the Mexican government from lifting the barrier for years.

The Mexican potato farmers’ legal objections came to a conclusion in April of last year when Mexico’s top court issued a five-to-zero ruling to allow the Mexican government to finally lift the 26-kilometer-barrier.

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Now that Mexico has finalized all of the new plant health protocols and the country’s sanitary and phytosanitary officials conducted their visit to the U.S., U.S. potato exports are expanding, NPC said.

“Through this accomplishment, we are delivering better markets for U.S. farmers, supporting economic growth, and providing access to our southern neighbors to the high-quality and safe products our farmers work hard every day to grow and sustain,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement Thursday. “USDA will continue to fight for new and expanded markets for American products as we help the nation build back better.”

The U.S. has exported about $60 million worth of fresh potatoes to Mexico yearly despite the 26-kilometer limit, according to NPC estimates. Now U.S. exports could rise to as high as $250 million per year over five years.

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