Hong Kong Named World's Freest Economy

Outdid rival Singapore in trade, fiscal, investment and financial freedoms

In an annual report published Jan. 15 by American think-tank The Heritage Foundation, Hong Kong has been named the world's freest economy for the 14th year in succession ahead of rival Singapore. Hong Kong's ranking comes despite criticism that its economy is dominated by a handful of powerful family-controlled monopolies and cartels, which not only control prices of particular goods but also block market access to competitors.

The organization put the southern Chinese territory at the top of its 2008 Index of Economic Freedom that covers 157 countries and territories, although its gap with Singapore has narrowed. The overall score in Hong Kong has dropped by 0.3 to 90.3 out of 100 points, while that in Singapore improved by 0.2 to 87.4 points. The higher the mark, the lower the level of government interference in the economy.

Hong Kong fared better than Singapore in four out of the 10 categories -- trade, fiscal, investment and financial freedoms. Singapore scored better in business, monetary and labor freedoms as well as the government size and freedom from corruption. They both ranked equally in property rights. The report said Hong Kong's income and corporate tax rates were very competitive, and overall taxation was relatively small as a percentage of gross domestic product.

However, the Heritage Foundation said the biggest weakness in Singapore's economy was its banking and financial systems which have heavy state influence. If that improves, it could give Hong Kong some real competition.

After Hong Kong and Singapore, the Foundation ranked Ireland as the world's third freest economy, followed by the Australia, U.S., New Zealand, Canada, Chile, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It ranked North Korea as the world's most economically repressed country, with Cuba, Zimbabwe, Libya and Myanmar remaining at the bottom of the chart.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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