U.S., Singapore most competitive nations, Japan lags behind

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, AP

The United States and Singapore kept their top spots as the world’s most competitive nations, while Japan, a previous leader, languished in 26th place, according to a poll of business leaders conducted by the International Institute for Management Development.

“Formidable” economic growth of around 10 percent brought Hong Kong back up to sixth place, which it held in 1999 before dropping last year to 12th, according to the survey released for Wednesday.

After ranking eighth in 2000, Canada slipped one place to ninth in this year’s survey.

But the report sounds alarm bells for the year to come. “2000 was a year of ‘economic exuberance.’ 2001 may be one of ‘economic hangover,”‘ it said.

Economic slowdown in the United States, coupled with Japan’s continuing crisis, could hit the rest of the world.

“Together, the U.S. and Japan represent 46 percent of the world economy,” said Professor Stephane Garelli, director of the project. “Their loss of momentum is likely to affect every nation around the world.”

The survey found Europe’s economies in good form and said the large European domestic market would be insulated against a ownturn.

Finland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland complete the top 10 slots on the list.

The Nordic countries are doing notably well, according to the report. “Scandinavia is booming, particularly due to massive investments in new technological infrastructure, such as Internet, telecommunications and computers.”

Growth in Russia is being fueled by energy exports, it said. The country — ranked 45th — is described as “up and coming.”

The best performing countries from the former Soviet bloc are Estonia, ranked 22nd, and Hungary, in 27th place.

High technology investments have also fueled growth in Asia, but the region is more vulnerable to a global slowdown, the survey said. With information technology and telecommunications suffering market saturation, export dependent Asian countries can expect to be “severely affected.”

South Korea kept its rank of 28th in this year’s survey. Taiwan moved up two places from last year, to 18th.

The survey said that success in the competitiveness table increasingly depends on a country’s ability to attract highly educated workers.

“The winning nations not only create a favorable environment for the best investments but also for the best brains,” said Garelli.”The U.S. is very aggressive in facilitating the immigration of talent — between 1994 and 1999, it opened the doors to 124,000 Indians, 68,000 Chinese, 57,000 Filipinos, 49,000 Canadians and 42,000 British holders of higher education degrees.”

“The battlefield for world competitiveness is thus moving to Bytes and Brains.”

The United States has led the competitiveness survey since it ended Japan’s eight-year reign in 1994.

Some 3,263 executives filled out the survey this year, rating countries on criteria ranging from labor costs and investment in research and development to education and society values, the report said. Thirty-four partner institutes around the world joined in making sure the final survey was balanced.