New Zealand edged out Singapore as the easiest country for doing business in the World Bank's latest rankings, while several emerging market countries improved the most by pursuing business-friendly reforms.
In its annual "Doing Business" report, the World Bank cited reductions in labour-related taxes and new regulations that make paying taxes easier as key reasons for moving New Zealand to the top spot from its previous runner-up position.
Macedonia broke into the coveted top 10, while Brunei had the biggest improvement, moving to 72nd from a rank of 84th last year as it made electricity supply more reliable, passed a new insolvency law and increased protections for minority investors.
The World Bank report tracks regulatory changes in 190 countries for businesses throughout their life cycle - from the ease of business start-up regulations and getting credit to property rights.
It said a record 137 economies made reforms to make it easier to start and operate businesses in the last year, with more than 75 per cent of the changes occurring in developing countries.
Kazakhstan rose to 35th place from 41st, with big weight given to its improvements in business start-up regulations, construction permits and power availability. Rounding out the 10 most-improved countries were Kenya, Belarus, Indonesia, Serbia, Georgia, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
This year's report tracked gender differences in scores for starting a business, registering property and enforcing contracts, finding discrimination that lowered the scores of 38 economies. Twenty-three of those had more procedures for women than men to start a business, and 16 limited women's ability to own and transfer property.
The 184th-ranked Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, requires a married woman to have her husband's authorisation to incorporate a business, the study said.
The World Bank says better performance in the "Doing Business" rankings generally equates to lower levels of income inequality and reduced poverty.
"Simple rules that are easy to follow are a sign that a government treats its citizens with respect," the World Bank's chief economist, Paul Romer, said in a statement. "They yield direct economic benefits - more entrepreneurship, more market opportunities for women, more adherence to the rule of law."
Most of the top 10 shifted around a bit, with Denmark staying in third place, Hong Kong edging higher to fourth from fifth, trading places with South Korea, and Norway rising to sixth.
The United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden ranked slightly lower.
Somalia was rated as the hardest country to do business in the latest survey.