Jamaica scored a marked improvement on the Global Competitiveness Index to rank 97th among 144 countries, but high crime and low growth threaten its gains.
Jamaica jumped 10 spots, according to the annual Global Competitiveness Report 2012-13 released this month by the World Economic Forum.
The world's most competitive countries are Switzerland, Singapore, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany, United States and United Kingdom. Hong Kong and Japan are the top non-European nations, ranking ninth and 10th, respectively.
The two most troubling indicators for Jamaica refer to the business cost of crime and violence, along with the macro-economic performance, ranked at 141, bettering only three countries.
Comparatively, the Zimbabwe macroeconomy, which suffered hyperinflation in recent years, ranks 19 spots better than Jamaica; and its business cost of crime ranked 73rd, or nearly half that of Jamaica's.
Jamaica has performed poorly over the last seven competitiveness reports.
It ranked 67th in the world in 2006/07 and continuously nose-dived to 107th among 142 countries in the 2011-12 report. However, Jamaica's rank remains the fourth highest in the Caribbean, with Guyana at 109, Dominican Republic at 105 and Haiti at 142.
Worst in the category
Puerto Rico remained the highest-ranked Caribbean country at 31, up from 35 last year; followed by Barbados at 44, down from 42 last year; and Trinidad & Tobago at 84, down from 81.
The competitive ranking measures 12 criteria, and Jamaica performed the worst in the category of macroeconomic environment and crime.
The report noted that Jamaica was particularly hurt by its fiscal and debt dynamics. The factors measured in that category include:
In the 2011-12 report, Jamaica fell to the bottom as the world's worst macroeconomy. It occurred during a period when the country experienced 30-year low interest rates, the lowest inflation rate in 20 years and also the largest drop in the murder rate in 20 years.
The macro improvements were caused, partly, by the Jamaica Debt Exchange, which lowered the interest cost burden for Government on its domestic liabilities. The debt stock is now at J$1.7 trillion.
After crime, the greatest concerns among Jamaicans were access to financing, corruption, tax rates, inefficient government bureaucracy, and poor work ethic.
The main challenges affecting the Latin American and Caribbean region include weak institutions with high insecurity; poor infrastructure; an inefficient allocation of production and human resources; and low capacity for innovation, according to the report.
"Addressing these weaknesses will allow countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to be better connected not only among themselves but also to the rest of the world, and to boost productivity levels," the report said.