The hall was large and chilly. But it was also full. Nearly 80 people had come to listen to a presentation on Mongolia’s ratings in the 2009 Doing Business survey. I was happy to see a healthy mix of government officials, private firms, developmental organizations, NGOs and journalists there.
The Doing Business project looks at the business environment in 181 economies using ten indicators that reflect the life cycle of businesses. Then it ranks them. Governments can use the rankings to compare themselves to other countries, or to measure their own progress in business reforms over time.
Mongolia is currently at 58, a slight drop from last year. It is 7th in the East Asia & Pacific Region, well ahead of China (83) and Vietnam (92). Mongolia also outperformed most countries of the former Soviet Union, including Russia (120) and Kazakhstan (70). Quite an achievement!
Sylvia Solf, the Program Manager from the Doing Business team, gave a great presentation. I watched the audience as she spoke; many took notes, virtually all paid close attention. There was also commentary from the Minister of Finance, the World Bank, EBRD, the CEO of XacBank, and the Chairman of the Mongolian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Afterwards, journalists swarmed all over her.
Mongolia is nervous these days. Since the onset of the global economic crisis, copper prices have collapsed: they fell from over $7,000 per ton to under $3,000. This has dealt a major blow to Mongolia’s foreign exchange earnings, and has left a big hole in the state budget. Mining companies are putting their plans on hold and pulling out staff. This is not just a loss for Mongolia: friends of ours from Rio Tinto left just last Saturday, depriving my daughter of a playmate.
Mongolia will have to compete harder now, and the government understands this. Not only is it taking the Doing Business indicators seriously, but also looking to improve business inspections, beef up corporate governance, and tackle thorny trade issues.
Overall the workshop went well. Our partners, the Consultative Council on Investment Climate and Private Sector Development, did a fantastic job organizing the workshop. The World Bank’s communications team mobilized excellent press coverage. And the Mongolian government is serious about improving its business climate.
But for me, the highlight was hanging out with Sylvia. She was good fun and enjoyed being in Ulaanbaatar, even in winter. I don’t think she’ll mind coming back next year.
Now for the hard part: making reforms happen.
>> Click here to read the 2009 Doing Business Profile for Mongolia.