Saudi Arabia sees most improvement in ease of doing business: World Bank

Saudi Arabia is the most improved country in the world for doing business, the World Bank said on Thursday. The Kingdom leapt 30 places in the annual survey of business efficiency in 190 countries, and was the top reforming country — the highest ranking since the bank launched its “Doing Business” survey 20 years ago.

The country now ranks 62nd in the world, ahead of many larger economies such as India, and it has introduced more reforms than China or Pakistan.

“Today, Saudi Arabia is celebrating,” Commerce and Investment Minister Majid Al-Qasabi said at the launch of the report in Riyadh. “And it is the outcome of tremendous efforts since the launch of Vision 2030.”

Simeon Djankov, the World Bank executive responsible for the report, said Saudi reformers had shown that “things that seemed impossible can be possible. Now the job remains to convince the rest of the world so they understand Saudi Arabia is open for business.”

“Something clearly is happening in the Gulf which has not happened before,” Djankov said.

The report ranked countries on their business climates, and found that the most improved countries over the previous year were in the Middle East – including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, and Kuwait.

“Achieving Aramco IPO is the single most important thing Saudi Arabia can do to improve its global business image," Djankov told Arab News. The time taken to start a business had been dramatically reduced and new online systems had speeded up export-import commerce, Djankov said. He also praised efforts to include more women in the workforce.

“A nation prospers when all its citizens benefit,” he said. “There are many areas in Saudi Arabia where women are on a par with men now, and the world should know about it.Thursday’s event also marked the inauguration of the National Competitiveness Centre, Tayseer, which will drive the Kingdom’s progress in business reform. Assistant Commerce Minister Iman Al-Mutairi, CEO of National Competitive Center (NCC), said the World Bank report was a “quantum leap” for the business community.

Saudi Arabia launched reforms in eight areas monitored by the World Bank, more than any other country. The report, based on interviews with 50,000 global private-sector executives, found the Kingdom had made the greatest progress in the area of business start-up. “It now costs only 5.4 percent of income per capita for an entrepreneur to start a business, which is lower than the Middle East and North Africa regional average of 16.7 per cent,” it said.

There has also been significant improvement in areas such as registry property and construction permits, and in the ease of obtaining electricity connections.

Saudi Arabia’s impressive reforms … show its commitment to fulfilling a main pillar of its Vision 2030: A thriving economy,” said Issam Abousleiman, the World Bank’s GCC regional director. Djankov said the Kingdom must now press on with reforms. “Why not repeat this performance next year, and the year after? The aim should be to be a better place to do business than Germany, France or the UK.”

The World Bank said Saudi Arabia’s reforms included establishing a one-stop-shop for business registration, introducing a secured transactions law and an insolvency law, improving protections for minority investors, and measures to bring more women into the workforce.

“Everybody here in this region figured out we better diversify the economy in some direction and I think this is actually why the reforms are happening now,” he added. The report coincides with the scheduled appearance of World Bank President David Malpass at a Saudi investment conference next week.

The US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and presidential adviser Jared Kushner would also attend the conference. “Removing barriers facing entrepreneurs generates better jobs, more tax revenues, and higher incomes, all of which are necessary to reduce poverty and raise living standards,” Malpass said in a statement.

The top 10 rankings in the survey were largely unchanged from a year ago, with New Zealand holding its top spot, followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark, South Korea, the United States, Georgia, Britain, Norway and Sweden. Latin American countries lagged in the rankings, with Argentina falling seven places to 126th, and Mexico, the region’s highest-ranking economy, falling six spots to 60th.-AN