Zimbabwe moved up slightly in the global competitive rankings released this week by the World Economic Forum, moving to 132nd place out of 142 countries in 2011-12 from 138th place last year, based on macroeconomics and public institution performance.
Index compilers cited "tentative" improvement based on macroeconomic conditions and attempts by the government to curb corruption and inefficiency in public institutions - "although significant room for improvement remains."
On public institutions Zimbabwe stood at 107, well up from 125 two years ago.
"On the other hand, some major concerns linger with regard to the protection of property rights," WEF researchers said, "reducing the incentive for businesses to invest," this a reference the ongoing indigenization or black empowerment program which proposes to put a controlling stake in large foreign-owned enterprises.
The terms of compensation for such equity transfers remain unclear, and many fear the exercise will ultimately resemble the chaotic land reform program launched in 2000.
WEF researchers said that despite improvement, the macroeconomic picture remains very uncertain, leaving Zimbabwe among the lowest-ranked countries in this category.
"Weaknesses in other areas include health [137th place] low educational enrollment rates, and official markets that continue to function with difficulty (particularly with regard to goods and labor markets, ranked 124th and 130th, respectively)," the WEF said.
Africa Confidential editor Patrick Smith said Zimbabwe has a distance to go to become globally competitive though the economy is "a lot more predictable and disciplined" so from a big-company standpoint "that means the business climate is much more benign."
But economic commentator Masimba Kuchera said Zimbabwe’s competitiveness rating will only rise significantly if it changes course on indigenization, which observers say is closely tied to President Robert Mugabe's aspirations for re-election.