Addressing its two-day annual conference in Beirut on Thursday, UAB President Joseph Torbey underlined the need for restructuring the Arab world's global economic ties.

He said the Arab world must face up to the challenge with "a global restructuring of our economies and closer links with the major economic blocs, such as the European Union and United States".

Torbey said the world's major trading blocs were seeking to forge "strategic, economic and financial partnerships with an Arab world that is rich in natural, monetary and human resources".

The UAB president said the Arab banking sector was registering an annual growth rate of 5% and its total shares were valued at $700 billion, representing 96% of the economic weight of the region's countries.

Deposits amount to $412 billion, the sector's own funds $52 billion and foreign assets $135 billion, he said.

Lopsided

The Arab world's share of global trade was a mere 4%, while Arab investments abroad totalled $1,000 billion.

Torbey regretted that the Arab world's share of global trade was a mere 4%, while Arab investments abroad totalled $1000 billion.

Jamal el-Din Bayumi, the secretary-general of the Union of Arab Investors called for a "complex-free" partnership between European and Mediterranean states.

He also supported the free-trade zone proposed by the United States, planned for launch in 2005.

Turning to relations with the US, Bayumi said the Arab world should "seize the opportunity … to open up to the biggest import market in the world."

Charles King Mallory, a senior adviser to the US State Department, said the Middle East would need to create 50 million new jobs by 2010 to keep up with population growth.