A recently released report by the World Bank has shown that East Asia and Pacific ranks second-to-last among regions on the pace of business reform, with some reforms seen in the Pacific.

The report, the fifth in an annual report series issued by the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC), was released last week, with Singapore topping the list once again as the most business friendly. Fiji was listed as the most business friendly economy in the Pacific and 36 overall, out of 178 economies. It was also ranked fifth in the East Asia Pacific region, and Tonga sixth, behind Singapore (the first overall), Hong Kong (4), Thailand (15) and Malaysia (24).

As released by the World Bank, the report, Doing Business 2008, found that equity returns are highest in countries that are reforming the most as investors are willing to invest in such economies. The report noted both Fiji and Tonga specifically, Fiji for "introducing judicial reforms to improve court efficiency" and Tonga for "reformed court procedures and introduced case management, transferring 90 percent of all cases - criminal, commercial, and land - from paper to computer. The changes cut the time to enforce contracts from 510 days to 350".

One of the important points the report brings out is that higher rankings on the ease of doing business were associated with higher percentages of women among both entrepreneurs and employees. Hopefully, there will be more recognition in economies of women as part of the able and willing workforce, able to contribute to an economy's overall development.

According to the report, the rankings are based on 10 indicators of business regulation that track the time and cost to meet government requirements in business start-up, operation, trade, taxation, and closure. However, it does not account for a country's proximity to large markets, the quality of its infrastructure services, the security of property from theft and looting, the transparency of government procurement, macroeconomic conditions or the underlying strength of institutions. And these exact problems are faced by Pacific island nations. But the report also adds that "still, a high ranking on the ease of doing business does mean that the government has created a regulatory environment conducive to operating a business". This means that countries in the region have managed to create an environment capable of accommodating business but this also means that we also have the ability to improve this environment, making it more business friendly. This is now the challenge for the region, as is for many other developing countries.

Other countries in the region that were rated are: Samoa (61), Vanuatu (62), Kiribati (73), Solomon Islands (79), Palau (82), Papua New Guinea (84), Marshall Islands (89) and Micronesia (112).

The Doing Business project has published a book of 11 case studies of successful reforms this year to assist reform across world economies.