The U.S. Senate has approved a bill aimed at helping the country's small businesses, giving President Barack Obama a political victory in his effort to revive the country's economy.
The Senate passed the bill Thursday with the help of two key votes from opposition Republicans. It now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives, which is expected to pass the bill and send it to the president to become law.
President Obama says U.S. exports had a bigger-than-expected increase during the past year, which he says will help fight unemployment.
"Obviously working off a low baseline, given the crisis last year, exports are expected to be up, but we are very pleased to see that they are up 18 percent, to where they were a year ago," Mr. Obama said. "And manufacturing exports are up 20 percent, and that is helping put a lot of our people back to work."
The U.S. unemployment rate remains mired at 9.6 percent, which has depressed Mr. Obama's public approval ratings and hampered candidates from his Democratic Party.
The president says one way out of the recession is to sell more American goods and services in other countries.
"The more American companies export, the more they produce," the president said. "And the more they produce, the more people they hire. And that means more jobs - good jobs that often pay as much as 15 percent more than average."
Mr. Obama spoke Thursday at a meeting of his recently formed export council.
He said his administration is working to resolve outstanding issues on free-trade agreements with South Korea and other countries, and seek congressional approval as soon as possible.
The United States signed free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama during the presidency of George W. Bush, but Congress has not approved them.
Earlier this year, President Obama called for the United States to double its exports within five years. He says that goal can be met.
"These are some of the steps we will pursue to double America's exports over the next five years," Mr. Obama said. "When I made this initial announcement some were skeptical, but the truth of the matter is that if we are increasing our exports by 14 or 15 percent per year, something that is achievable, then we can meet our goal."
A government report says the United States can meet its goal by conducting more international trade missions, promoting American exports in emerging markets and making small businesses aware of export opportunities.