U.S. Group Praises Georgia For ‘Spectacular’ Gains On Economic Freedom, Blasts Iran, Turkmenistan

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Georgia has placed 12th in the Heritage Foundation's global Index of Economic Freedom for 2020, continuing what the conservative Washington-based think tank called its "spectacular" rise among the "mostly free" economies of the world.

Armenia and Bulgaria also placed in the "mostly free" category in the report published on March 17, ranking 34th and 36th, respectively.

The harshest language was directed at Iran and Turkmenistan, which ranked near the bottom in the "repressed" category.

The Heritage Foundation -- which looked at the rule of law, government size, regulatory efficiency, and open markets -- said the average economic-freedom rating for the current report was the highest ever recorded in the index's 26-year history.

The report said Georgia, which ranked sixth among 45 European countries, increased its ranking with "noticeable improvements on all indicators related to the rule of law."

"The Georgian economy continues its spectacular, seven-year run up the ranks of the 'mostly free,'" it said, adding that the South Caucasus country's gross domestic product (GDP) "has also been expanding at a healthy rate for the past five years."

The report also praised Tbilisi's efforts to reduce corruption, slash regulations, and simplify taxes.

"A top-10 ranking will require even more intensive efforts to improve perceptions of government integrity and judicial effectiveness. A good first step to avoid controversies over judicial appointments would be legislative action to protect the independence of the judiciary," it said.

In neighboring Armenia, Heritage said that "economic freedom has remained fairly constant" over the past 15 years, "with the economy vacillating between 'moderately free' and 'mostly free.'"

"GDP growth in the past two years has been especially robust as the economy has rebounded from a 2015-16 regional slowdown. The government is pursuing structural reforms, export promotion, and greater foreign investment to boost future economic growth," according to the report.

"To attract greater investment and finally break out of its holding pattern to move higher into the 'mostly free' category, Armenia will need to focus more intently on improving judicial effectiveness and government integrity," it said.

Russia, which ranked 94th, moved up to the "moderately free" category for the first time, helped by what Heritage called a higher "fiscal health" score.

"The Russian economy is ranked 'moderately free' for the first time this year after more than a decade in the ranks of the 'mostly unfree.' GDP growth has been weak over the past five years, burdened by structural weaknesses, low levels of investment, and a poor demographic outlook, but improved in 2018," the report said.

It also criticized Moscow for pursuing "statist, nationalist, and protectionist economic policies."

"A subservient judiciary, rampant corruption, and links among bureaucrats and organized criminal groups compromise government integrity," making it difficult for the country to move up to the “mostly free” group, it added.

With RFE/RL's broadcast area, Romania (38th place), Kazakhstan (39), North Macedonia (41), Azerbaijan (44), Serbia (65), Kyrgyzstan, (81), Bosnia-Herzegovina (82), Moldova (87), Belarus (88), and Montenegro (91) were also labeled "moderately free."

Among the "mostly unfree" were Uzbekistan (114), Ukraine (134), Pakistan (135), Afghanistan (136), and Tajikistan (155).

Near the bottom, in the "repressed" category, were Iran (164) and Turkmenistan (170).

On Iran, the report said that "powerful interest groups, mostly linked to the security and religious establishments, are opposed to the pursuit of economic liberalization and reengagement with the global economy."

"Given Iran's excessive reliance on the oil sector, sustainable economic growth will remain a long-term objective rather than a short-term possibility," it said.

Heritage described Turkmenistan, led by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, as "a repressive authoritarian state in which political rights and civil liberties are almost completely denied in practice."

"Economic freedom is not attainable in any meaningful sense as the governing regime is currently constituted," the report said.

Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, and Ireland were ranked first through sixth and were the only countries to qualify as "free" economies.

Britain ranked seventh, while the United States was 17th and China was 103rd.

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