Washington: Singapore and Hong Kong rank the world's best places to run a business, while mainland China remains far down the list, according to the World Bank's annual competitiveness survey on Tuesday.
The Southeast Asian entrecotes and finance centres topped the survey for the eighth straight year, with New Zealand, the United States and Denmark rounding out the top five, as a year ago.
The lower ranks of the 189-country list were populated with African countries like Chad, the Central African Republic and Libya holding.
But a rising African country, Rwanda, took honours as the most improved since 2005, praised for its efforts to boost property registration and for simplifying trading and tax procedures.
China, which was furious to receive a ranking of 91 last year and has pressured the World Bank to drop the 11-year-old study, fell five notches this year to 96th place and was leapfrogged by Russia.
The "Doing Business 2014" report said many countries are making it easier for people to start and run a local business, with low-income economies moving more quickly than larger ones to improve.
"Regulation is a reality from the beginning of a firm's life to the end," the report says. "Navigating it can be complex and costly."
But in many areas, it added, "there has been remarkable progress in removing some of the biggest bureaucratic obstacles to private sector activity."
The rankings focus on what a small or medium-sized business faces in its home country, as opposed to how a multinational giant would fare in the same environment.
The data was based on surveys of more than 10,000 professionals, mostly people who routinely help administer or give advice on legal and regulatory issues in a country.
The countries are scored on a range of issues, from how many days and procedures does it take to start a business, to the length of time to get a power hookup, to the ease of credit and the cost of exporting or importing a container.
Countries credited with progressing the most in the past five years include Rwanda (ranked 32), Russia (92), Ukraine (112) and the Philippines (108).
Russia and Rwanda both jumped 20 places from last year, Ukraine gained 25 and the Philippines 30 places.
"It is an extremely low-quality report," one World Bank source said. "They rank things that have nothing to do with each other. It's no longer economics."