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Switzerland beats Singapore, US to top competitiveness ranking

A woman stands beside an illuminated World Economic Congress sign in the Kongress Zentrum, also known as Congress Center, on the opening day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan 21, 2015. Switzerland topped the World Economic Forum's competitiveness ranking for a seventh consecutive year, with Singapore and the US second and third.

[ZURICH] Switzerland topped the World Economic Forum's competitiveness ranking for a seventh consecutive year, with Singapore and the US second and third.

"Nurturing innovation and talent" has kept those three nations on top, according to a report on 140 countries published Wednesday by the Geneva-based WEF. "In many countries, too few people have access to high-quality education and training, and labor markets are not flexible enough." Many emerging markets have failed to improve their competitiveness since the global financial crisis, according to the forum, which cut Brazil's ranking by 18 places to 75th and has Turkey dropping six to 51st. While India rebounded to 55th after five years of decline, China's failure to improve on its 28th spot shows the challenges it faces in "transitioning its economy," the WEF said.

"The new normal of slow productivity growth poses a grave threat to the global economy and seriously impacts the world's ability to tackle key challenges such as unemployment and income inequality," Xavier Sala-i-Martin, a professor of economics at Columbia University, said in a statement issued by the WEF. "The best way to address this is for leaders to prioritise reform and investment in areas such as innovation and labour markets."

The ranking of the US, commended for its sophisticated businesses and collaboration between companies and universities, may be threatened if it doesn't reform education and address high health and social security costs to boost productivity, according to the report.

The appreciation of the Swiss franc since the removal in January of a cap against the euro, near-zero inflation and negative interest rates pose risks for Switzerland, the WEF said. A 2014 referendum that may result in immigration quotas could also undermine the ability of the Alpine nation to lure the foreign workers who help drive its economy.

"Switzerland must continue to sharpen its competitive edge to justify the high cost of doing business in the country," the forum said.

The WEF, best known for its annual conference in Davos, defines competitiveness as the set of institutions, policies and factors that determine a country's level of productivity. A nation's ranking depends on 12 indicators, including infrastructure, macroeconomic environment and technological readiness.

Germany and the Netherlands moved up the ranking to fourth and fifth respectively, while Finland fell to eighth. The UK slipped one notch to 10th, swapping places with Sweden. Last placed Guinea was one of six African nations at the bottom of the ranking.