For the 19th consecutive year, Hong Kong maintained its position as the world’s freest economy, according to the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, published annually by The Heritage Foundation.
Launched in 1995, the Index evaluates countries over 10 economic freedom factors – from property rights to entrepreneurship – grouped into four broad areas of economic freedom: rule of law; regulatory efficiency; limited government; and open markets. Based on its aggregate score, each of the 177 ranked countries was classified either as: “free” (i.e. combined scores of 80 or higher); “mostly free” (70-79.9); “moderately free” (60-69.9); “mostly unfree” (50-59.9); or “repressed” (under 50).
The World’s Freest Economy. Picture of Hong Kong by Jakub Halun
The top four in the index were unchanged. Hong Kong scored 89.3 on the 1-100 scale, which, although 0.6% lower than last year, still topped the 88 of Singapore, which, although 0.5% higher than 2012, ranked second, as it has for all 19 years. Australia and New Zealand ranked third and fourth, at 82.6 and 81.4 respectively, enabling the Asia-Pacific region to account for the four highest-ranked countries.
Switzerland took fifth place in the ranking (and continued to be the only “free” economy in the European region), with Canada finishing sixth, despite slipping a half point, and Chile seventh, moving more than half a point toward greater economic freedom. Mauritius, the only sub-Saharan country to rank among the top 10, was eighth with an overall score of 76.9. Denmark finished ninth, just ahead of the United States, which remains in tenth.
The US, with an economic freedom score of 76, lost ground again in the 2013 Index. Its score was 0.3 points lower than last year, with declines in monetary freedom, business freedom, labor freedom and fiscal freedom.
The world average score of 59.6 was only one-tenth of a point above the 2012 average. Since reaching a global peak in 2008, the Foundation noted that economic freedom has continued to stagnate. The overall trend for last year, however, was positive: Among the 177 countries ranked in the 2013 Index, scores improved for 91 countries and declined for 78.
“On the plus side, average government spending scores improved,” it added. “Unfortunately, this was matched by a decline in regulatory efficiency, as a number of countries hiked minimum wages and tightened control of labor markets.”
Hong Kong’s score was lower than 2012 due to increased government spending relative to gross domestic product and an increase in inflation. Among the 10 economic freedom factors assessed, Hong Kong maintained its top position in trade and financial freedom, remained second in investment freedom and property rights, and rose from third to second in business freedom.
Hong Kong’s Acting Financial Secretary Professor KC Chan welcomed Hong Kong’s highest ranking, noting that The Heritage Foundation complimented Hong Kong’s highly competitive regulatory regime “which, coupled with an efficient and transparent legal framework, sustains vibrant engagement in global trade and investment.”
As Hong Kong’s economic interaction with mainland China has got closer, and trade and financial linkages with the Mainland have grown significantly, The Heritage Foundation further complimented Hong Kong for continuing to demonstrate a high degree of economic resilience and remaining one of the world’s most competitive financial and business centers.
Chan confirmed the government is determined to uphold economic freedom in Hong Kong. “The government will continue to provide a business-friendly environment for firms to flourish, while establishing an appropriate regulatory regime to ensure the integrity and smooth functioning of the free market. We also strive to remove impediments to industries tapping into new markets,” he added.