Poland makes greatest strides in business reforms world bank

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* Eastern Europe made most regulatory reforms* Singapore in No. 1 spot for seventh year* Greece moves up 22 spots; Venezuela slips furtherBy Anna YukhananovWASHINGTON, Oct 22 Poland made the greatest improvements in business friendly reforms in the past year, though Singapore still ranked as the world's easiest place to do business, according to a World Bank report released on Monday. Poland led a rush of business-friendly changes across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with 88 percent of the countries in the vast region improving business regulations over the year, according to the annual "Doing Business" report from the bank and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance CorpPoland, eastern Europe's largest economy, made it easier to register property, pay taxes, enforce contracts and resolve business insolvency, making it the most improved country out of the 185 tracked in the report. Singapore retained its number one rank for the seventh year in a row, followed by Hong Kong, New Zealand, the United States and Denmark. Georgia and Australia also broke into the coveted top 10 rankings, edging out Iceland and Ireland.

The report tracks regulations that affect a company throughout its life cycle, from the ease of starting a new business to how long it takes to fill out taxes or register property. The rankings also consider general legal protections. The desire to catch up with more established European Union members continues to drive improvements in business regulations in Eastern Europe, as it has over the past decade, the report said."Places like Poland are still lagging behind," said Augusto Lopez-Claros, World Bank group director of global indicators and analysis, who was in charge of the report."They want to be future members of the (euro zone), or they want to be able to compete once they get going. One aspect of being able to compete is to improve your institutions (and) your business environment."

Poland is now the 55th best place to do business, up from 62nd place last year. The country has been a rare bright spot in Europe over the past few years, managing to sustain robust growth even while its neighbors slumped -- though growth next year is projected to slow. Economic adversity has also sparked regulatory changes in Greece and Italy, which both made vast improvements in their business-related rules, according to the report. Greece has struggled to tame a pile of debt and comply with fiscal targets from international lenders, even as the economy suffers through its fifth year of recession. An improved business climate can help encourage growth, reducing the debt burden, the World Bank said. In the past year, Greece was the eighth "most improved" country in the world, moving up 22 places in the rankings to be the 78th easiest place for business.

GLOBAL RACE The report's findings over the past 10 years point to a general convergence between the world's best and worst places to do business, as globalization drives investment to wherever it is welcome. But a few countries have fallen behind. In the Middle East and North Africa, the pace of regulatory change has slowed since the Arab Spring uprisings last year, as governments struggle to deal with a range of political, social and economic issues. And Venezuela slipped three places from last year and is now sixth from last. It consistently underperforms other Latin American countries in areas such as the time it takes to start a business, ease of paying taxes, and legal protections for borrowers and lenders. Under Hugo Chavez, the country's long-serving socialist president, Venezuela has implemented a raft of nationalizations and is increasingly reliant on its vast oil reserves."I wouldn't want to be a businessman in Venezuela," Lopez-Claros said.