By Andy Sambidge
World Economic Forum report shows Qatar is most competitive nation, followed by Saudi, UAE
The Arab world must improve its economic competitiveness if the region is to solve its biggest economic challenge of creating enough jobs for its youthful and growing population, according to a new report.
The Arab World Competitiveness Report 2013, launched by the World Economic Forum, showed Qatar was the top ranked country in the global list.
Qatar was placed 11th, ahead of Saudi Arabia (18th) and the UAE (24th).
Oman was ranked 32nd, Bahrain (35th), Kuwait (37th), Jordan (64th), Morocco (70th), Egypt (107th), Algeria (110th), and Libya (113th).
Globally, Switzerland was named the most competitive country, followed by Singapore, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands. Germany, US, UK, Hong Kong and Japan were also in top 10.
Published by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the report identified a number of areas where Arab leaders could prioritise reform in order to unlock barriers to job creation and private sector expansion.
It said barriers differ across the region - with weak institutions and labour markets singled out as the most significant areas for improvement in North Africa.
In Levant, the report highlights weak infrastructure and institutions while a pervasive education and innovation gap is in focus in countries in the Gulf.
The report also finds that leaders in the Arab world who embrace the challenge of lifting competitiveness and enabling private sector growth could look forward to a “win-win” scenario, characterised by higher employment and greater social stability.
The report said: "Since the onset of the Arab Spring, many countries have embarked on a political and economic transition process, which brought to light the daunting social and economic challengesmany countries in the region face.
"High unemployment, particularly among the young, female and the educated parts of the population, is considered by many to be the most important socioeconomic challenge currently facing the region.
"The problem is not new. The subsequent editions of The Arab World Competitiveness Report have highlighted since 2002 the need to strengthen competitiveness in order to create jobs and to absorb the large numbers of young people coming into the workforce."
The report added that in the longer term, the unemployment challenge in the Arab world cannot be resolved without "major strides in countries’ national competitiveness" as only a strong and dynamic private sector can create a sufficient number of jobs to absorb the countries’ growing young workforce.
Børge Brende, managing director of the World Economic Forum, said: “Strong leadership based on a shared vision of the future political and economic system will be necessary to navigate the countries of the region through the turbulent times.
"The findings of this report are crucial for informing the discussions at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa.”
Erik Berglöf, chief economist of the EBRD, added: “Arab world leaders must prioritize developing market institutions and structures, which can enhance the regulatory and business environment and ultimately attract more capital into the region.
"Sustainable growth and job creation can only come through the unleashing of the private sector.”