India's economy may be in the doldrums, but it's getting more competitive

Key Points
  • India ranked 40th out of 137 countries on the World Economic Forum's 2017 global competitiveness ranking
  • The score is the country's highest ever in WEF's current methodology

India's economic growth hit a three-year low during the April-June period, enveloping Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a barrage of criticism for poor execution of major reforms such as the recent national sales tax and demonetization.

But a new World Economic Forum study indicates his government has made progress in strengthening overall business sentiment.

The South Asian giant ranked 40th out of 137 countries on the organization's 2017 global competitiveness ranking — one spot lower than last year's edition, but still its highest-ever score in WEF's current methodology.

National competitiveness is defined as a set of institutions, policies and factors that determine a country's level of productivity.

Improvement across most pillars of competitiveness, particularly infrastructure and higher education, reflects recent public investments in these areas, WEF said. Strides in labor market efficiency, especially the nation's ability to attract and retain talent, also helped India's 2017 ranking, the Swiss foundation added.

"The quality of institutions has increased further, especially in terms of efficiency of public spending."

Modi's government has pledged to spend a record $60 billion on infrastructure this financial year, but concerns are rampant that lower tax collections and weak economic growth could force New Delhi to cut expenditures.

Mumbai, India
Danish Siddiqui | Reuters

Going forward, the private sector still considers corruption, access to financing and tax rates as the most problematic factors for doing business in India, the WEF noted.

The level of technological readiness of individuals and firms also remains relatively low, it said, which suggests "that the benefits of innovative activities are not widely shared."

This wide disconnect between innovative strength and technological readiness will prevent the emerging market darling from fully leveraging its strengths across the wider economy, the WEF said.

Switzerland was ranked first in WEF's 2017 report, followed by the U.S., Singapore and Holland.