Starting a new business can be difficult at the best of times – but it’s getting easier overall. That’s according to the World Bank’s annual report Doing Business 2017, which measures regulations affecting businesses.

Launching a business now takes an average of 21 days worldwide, compared with 46 days 10 years ago.

The report points to a record 137 economies around the world taking up key reforms that make it easier to start and run small and medium-sized businesses.

Developing countries pushed through more than three-quarters of the 283 reforms in the past year, and sub-Saharan Africa carried out more than one-quarter of all reforms.

In both the global rankings of best economies to start a business and ease of doing business, the top spot goes to New Zealand, where it takes an average of less than a day to launch a business.

 Best economies to start a business
Image: World Bank

Canada is second in the list of best economies to start a business, followed by Hong Kong, Macedonia and Azerbaijan.

The easiest places to do business

When it comes to doing business, however, the list changes. New Zealand is at the top of the table for the first time, knocking Singapore off the top spot, a position it has retained for the past decade.

Singapore is followed by Denmark, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Easiest place in the world to do business
Image: World Bank

The United States also slipped down one place in the overall table, from seventh to eighth. It scored well for getting credit and dealing with insolvent firms, but suffered a poor rating for starting a business (51st worldwide).

In last place was Somalia, which wasn't included in last year's rankings as it has little to no protection for business investors.

This year’s report assessed 10 areas of business: starting a business; dealing with construction permits; getting electricity; registering property; getting credit; protecting minority investors; paying taxes; trading across borders; enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. Labour market regulation was not included in this year’s ranking.

The world’s top 10 improvers are Brunei Darussalam; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Belarus; Indonesia; Serbia; Georgia; Pakistan; United Arab Emirates; and Bahrain.

This year’s report also highlighted the obstacles facing women entrepreneurs in many places. It found gender disparities in 38 economies for women starting a business, registering property and enforcing contracts. Of these, 23 required married women to take more steps than men to start a business and 16 limited women’s ability to own, use and transfer property.