Most Sub-Saharan countries made doing business easier over the past year, but the African region is still the costliest and most complex in the world for entrepreneurs, the World Bank said in a report Thursday.
In its annual ranking of 183 countries, the bank found 36 of 46 Sub-Saharan African nations improved their business environment in the year through June 2011, the highest number since the study began nine years ago.
"We were very excited about Africa's improvement," said Mikiko Imai Ollison, one of the authors of the report. "Obviously, Africa has a lot to catch up on. It's the region with the weakest legal institutions as well as the least efficient procedures."
The world's top five countries for doing business were unchanged from last year _ Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the U.S. and Denmark.
The bank judges nations on 11 criteria _ starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts, resolving insolvency and employing workers.
The bank said 125 countries improved a total of 245 business regulations in the past year, up 13 percent from the previous year.
Morocco was this year's biggest gainer in the rankings, jumping to 94 from 115 after the North African nation simplified construction permits, allowed minority shareholders to obtain some corporate documents during trials and enhanced electronic tax filing.
South Korea leapt to 8th place from 15th by introducing an online process for starting a business, merging several taxes and filing commercial litigation electronically. Sweden fell out of the top ten to 14th.
East Asia was the best performing region with nine countries in the top 25. China slid four spots to 91 while India was 132.
Sub-Saharan Africa's improvement was led by Sierra Leone, which advanced to 141 from 150. Mauritius at 23, and South Africa at 35, are Africa's highest ranked countries.
Africa also has eight of the 10 lowest ranked nations, including Chad in last place.
Venezuela was South America's lowest-ranked country at 177, the only non-African nation in the bottom nine.
"It clearly has not been a priority for the government to address business regulations," said Neil Gregory, who helped write the report.
In addition to Venezuela, Zimbabwe is the only other country to have made business more difficult to conduct over the last seven years, he said.