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Wednesday, 17 October, 2001, 22:40 GMT 23:40 UK
Finland tops economic league
Little Finland has knocked the United States off its perch as the world's most competitive economy, according to an annual ranking from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The ranking bundles together economic data from 75 countries with surveys of 4,600 business people around the world.

Top 10
Finland
United States
Canada
Singapore
Australia
Norway
Taiwan
Netherlands
Sweden
New Zealand

The resulting measure of competitiveness is an accurate prediction of future economic growth potential, the WEF argues.

Finland, which jumped from last year's fifth position in the league table, is one of the most technologically advanced economies in the world, having built a particularly strong reputation in the mobile telecoms market.

The survey was largely conducted before the 11 September attacks, but the WEF said it would have had little impact on the rankings, which reflect longer-term trends.

Finland finds favour

The fall of the US, which has shared the top spot with Singapore for the past few years, is partly the result of the collapse of hi-tech shares and its resultant economic slowdown.

But the WEF stressed that the reshuffle at the top was more to do with Finland's economic achievements.

Guardsmen on parade
Britain is knocked out of the top 10
"This country's remarkable turnaround over the past decade serves as evidence of how quickly an economy's prospects can be transformed by strong political institutions, a focus on technology, and sound macroeconomic management," the report said.

Over the past 10 years, Finland has not only become one of the world's most efficient, tech-driven economies, but has invested effort and money into social policy.

One key indicator of its long-term thinking is the Finland 2015 plan, which aims to "improve the knowledge, skills, resources and networks of top-level Finnish decision-makers in matters concerning the future of Finland."

Finland scores highly - in many cases at the top of world league tables - in measures of technology use, largely thanks to the influence of companies such as mobile giant Nokia.

Musical chairs

Further down the rankings, there has been a radical shift of positions over the past year.

A Zimbabwean riot
Crisis-hit Zimbabwe props up the list
Ireland and the UK have slumped out of the top 10, again because of slower economic growth, and over fears that policy reform had lost some of its earlier vigour.

Hong Kong, which has come further under the influence of Beijing, was another high-profile loser.

Among the strongest risers were Scandinavian countries, which have borrowed some of Finland's economic zeal, as well as Australia and New Zealand, both of which have become significantly more integrated in the global economy over the past decade.

Laggards struggle

Towards the bottom of the table come the usual list of familiar names - including Colombia, Ukraine, Nigeria and Indonesia.

Big winners...
Finland
up 4 to 1st
Australia
up 6 to 5th
Norway
up 9 to 6th
Iceland
up 7 to 16th
South Korea
up 5 to 28th

Bottom of all, and the heaviest overall faller in the rankings, was Zimbabwe, which has seen its economy collapse thanks to the confrontational policies of President Robert Mugabe.

There are some surprises.

In general, Latin American countries fare worse than those in Asia, despite their marginally stronger economic performance.

And Russia, which is reckoned to have made great strides in the past 12 months, slumped nine places to 63rd, well below communist Vietnam.

The WEF's ranking, focusing on the largest economies, omits most small countries and almost all of sub-Saharan Africa.

New faces shine

The rankings have been somewhat distorted this year by the inclusion of a raft of new countries, including the Baltic states, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Jamaica and Uruguay.

... and losers
Ireland
down 7 to 11th
UK
down 4 to 12th
Hong Kong
down 6 to 13th
Israel
down 6 to 24th
Malaysia
down 6 to 30th
Philippines
down 12 to 48th
Egypt
down 10 to 51st
Turkey
down 15 to 54th
Zimbabwe
down 20 to 75th

The highest-placed newcomer was Baltic Estonia, one of the leading candidates for early membership of European Union.

Estonia came into the rankings at number 29, above Greece and fellow ex-communist countries such as the Czech Republic and Poland.

Estonia is next to Finland, and shares many economic characteristics, including technological advancement and a determinedly reformist attitude to policy-making.

See also:

26 Sep 01 | Business
US economy in freefall
23 Aug 01 | Business
Charting the rise of Nokia
07 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Finland
06 Sep 00 | Business
US economy is tops
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