Singapore overtakes Hong Kong as world's freest economy

Singapore, its long-time regional rival, came in first as its score held steady compared to 2019. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong lost its title as the world's freest economy to Singapore for the first time since 1995 in a global survey, as social unrest and uncertainties rattled its reputation as a global financial hub.

Hong Kong's overall economic freedom score fell primarily due to a decline in its marks for investment freedom, according to the 2020 Index of Economic Freedom published by the Heritage Foundation. Singapore, its long-time regional rival, came in first as its score held steady compared with last year.

"Hong Kong's economy was rated the freest in the world from 1995 through 2019. The ongoing political and social turmoil has begun to erode its reputation as one of the best locations from which to do business, dampening investment inflows," the report from the conservative Washington think-tank said.

While large-scale pro-democracy demonstrations that began last year have died down amid the coronavirus pandemic, trust in Hong Kong authorities remains at a low as community groups - including medical workers - express dissatisfaction toward them for not doing enough to stem the disease in the early weeks of the outbreak.

Mr Edward Yau, Hong Kong's secretary for commerce and economic development, told reporters on Tuesday (March 17) that he expects to see a rebound in the rankings. "I can confidently say that the conditions that have long made Hong Kong a place with a high level of economic freedom won't change because of what we experienced in the past."

The city's economy is forecast to contract for a second year after it fell into its first annual recession in a decade in 2019, facing fallout from the protests and the virus.

"Intensifying uncertainties related to security issues have undermined an otherwise favorable investment climate," the report said. "The territory remains a dynamic global financial center with a high degree of competitiveness and openness, but the sense of risk is also heightened."

The Hong Kong authorities have long taken pride in the city's reputation as a stable place to do business in Asia. After topping the Heritage Foundation's ranking for a 25th straight year last year, it said the designation reaffirmed "the government's steadfast commitment in upholding the free market principles over the years".

In December, it touted the rating in newspaper advertisements around the world to reassure investors that it remained free and resilient despite the months of violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

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