Geneva - The United States and Japan were among the top-ranked economies in terms of improving their competitiveness over the last year, according to an annual ranking published Wednesday by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Geneva.

For the sixth year in a row, Switzerland took the top spot, followed by Singapore.

The US came in third, owing to its innovative companies and strong institutions, said the WEF, which hosts the annual meeting of global leaders in the Swiss town of Davos.

Since last year's ranking, the US overtook Finland as well as Germany and relegated them to fourth and fifth place, respectively.

Germany needs to improve access to jobs for foreigners and women, the WEF warned, adding that the recent introduction of a minimum wage could make its labour market less flexible.

Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Britain and Sweden rounded out the list of the 10 most competitive economies.

Improvements in the area of innovation was one of the reasons why Japan climbed up three places this year.

Europe's crisis countries Portugal and Greece climbed significantly to 36th and 81th place respectively, owing to ambitious reform programmes.

Russia climbed from rank 64 to 53, but the WEF warned that further sanctions against the country in light of the Ukraine conflict could damage its competitiveness, as well as that of its trade partners.

Although Russia has improved its public institutions, boosted market competition and improved the efficiency of its labour market, it still ranks very low in these three areas, according to the WEF.

In general, “emerging economies for the most part did not use the recent spell of high growth to implement the structural reforms needed to boost productivity and build competitiveness,” the WEF said.

India dropped to 71th place this year, the lowest among the large emerging economies, while Turkey, South Africa and Brazil also lost ground.

India's economy is held back by poor health services and primary education, as well as by its weak transport and power infrastructure, WEF economists said. - Sapa-dpa