San Jose street vendor. File photo.
San Jose street vendor. File photo.

QCOSTARICA (Reuters) – Costa Rica made the most progress over the last year in reforming its economy to become more business friendly, the World Bank said in its annual report card last week.

The latest “Doing Business” report found developing economies in general stepped up the pace of regulatory changes designed to make it easier to set up and operate a business, with particular improvements seen in cutting red tape for new entrants.

Singapore was the world’s easiest place to do business for the 10th year in a row, followed by New Zealand, the bank said in a report that ranks 189 countries on criteria ranging from getting credit to the reliability of electricity supply. Eritrea was ranked last.

Some have argued the methodology is biased against all regulations and China and others have said it unfairly stigmatizes fast-growing economies, prompting changes to the way the scores were calculated this year.

But the report, the World Bank’s most-downloaded publication, is keenly eyed by developing countries seeking to attract international investment.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a goal of reaching the top 50 by 2017 and Russian President Vladimir Putin is eyeing 20th place by 2018.

The report showed Russia climbed to rank 51st from a re-calculated 54th place last year, based on the new methodology. India moved up to place 130th from 134th, but still trailed fellow emerging markets South Africa, China and Brazil.

The World Bank praised Uganda, Kenya, Cyprus, Mauritania, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Jamaica, Senegal and Benin for improvement over the last year but said Costa Rica made the biggest advance.

Costa Rica, which advanced to 58th from 79th place, made getting a new electricity connection easier, improved access to credit and made it easier to pay taxes by promoting electronic filing and payment systems.

Overall, the 85 developing economies covered in the score card implemented 169 business reforms during the past year, compared with 154 reforms the previous year, the World Bank said.

The most improvements came in the time it takes to obtain a permit for starting a business and associated costs. The average time is now just 20 days, compared to 51 days in 2003, when the report was first published.