x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

High praise as country rises up the WEF league

The UAE has jumped three places in the World Economic Forum's annual Global Competitiveness Report.

An improvement in the scores for infrastructure, health and primary education helped the UAE go up three rungs on the competitiveness ladder to 21st place. Silvia Razgova / The National
An improvement in the scores for infrastructure, health and primary education helped the UAE go up three rungs on the competitiveness ladder to 21st place. Silvia Razgova / The National

Building world-class hospitals, schools and malls helped the UAE to jump three places up the World Economic Forum's (WEF) ranking of the most competitive countries this year.

The Emirates was ranked 24th in the world in the WEF Global Competitiveness Report, up from 27th last year. The index assesses institutions, policies and a host of other factors to determine a country's level of productivity.

Helping to bolster the UAE's position were solid ratings for infrastructure, health and primary education. Retail market efficiency and business sophistication were also high among the country's winning criteria.

The Emirates also scored well in areas of public trust in politicians, efficiency of government spending, crime and taxation.

Some factors were deemed to be barriers to doing business in the UAE, however.

Restrictive labour regulations, access to financing and an inadequately trained workforce were all cited as obstacles.

"If you compare apples with apples, the UAE is one of the most attractive places in the region to do business and it is getting better," said Asim Siddiqui, the managing director of Age Intrade, a stockist and trader of structural steel based in Dubai. "In terms of visas, dealings with the Government and office space, the UAE offers a very good package." Elsewhere in the region, Qatar ranked 11th and Saudi Arabia came in at 18th.

Globally, Switzerland topped the list for the fourth year in a row, ahead of Singapore, which remained in second place.

Finland overtook Sweden to third, followed by the Netherlands, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The index shows Switzerland and other countries in northern Europe have been consolidating their positions since the global downturn in 2008.

But countries in southern Europe continued to score badly. Portugal ranked 49th, Spain 36th and Italy 42nd. Greece scored particularly badly in 96th.

The results showed those countries continued to suffer from weakness in competitiveness, macro-economic imbalances, poor access to financing, rigid labour markets and a lack of innovation, said the WEF.

"Persisting divides in competitiveness across regions and within regions, particularly in Europe, are at the origin of the turbulence we are experiencing today and this is jeopardising our future prosperity," said Klaus Schwab, the WEF's founder and executive chairman.

"We urge governments to act decisively by adopting long-term measures to enhance competitiveness and return the world to a sustainable growth path."

Large emerging-market economies displayed different performances. Of the Brics economies, China came in 29th place, followed by Brazil in 48th. South Africa, India and Russia all slid down the rankings outside the top 50.

The US, the world's largest economy, dropped down the rankings for the fourth year in a row, to seventh. Economic growth uncertainties, low public trust in politicians and a perceived lack of government efficiency all dragged the country down the index. But the US was still adjudged a global innovation powerhouse with markets that work efficiently.

In the Middle East and North Africa, Kuwait declined in the rankings to 37th, while Morocco, in 70th place, and Jordan, in 63rd, improved slightly. Most countries in the region continued to require efforts across the board to raise their competitiveness, said the WEF.

Xavier Sala-i-Martin,a professor of economics at Columbia University in New York, said the competitiveness index "provides a window on the long-term trends shaping the competitiveness of the world's economies".

"In this light, we believe it offers useful insight into the key areas where countries must act if they are to optimise the productivity that will determine their economic future."

tarnold@thenational.ae