Issues Decoded
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Issues Decoded

GDP Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

Why economic power isn’t the only factor behind a country’s potential

Countries around the world compete to attract business, tourists, exports, and influence on the global stage. In the past, the global rankings of a country’s influence was largely defined by the size of a country’s population and economic power.

However, the recently published 8th edition of FutureBrand’s Country Index suggests that other factors such as: healthcare, education, environmental policies, political freedom, tolerance, heritage, and culture are more likely to matter today than in the past.

This year’s index indicates that a country’s values and its quality of life can have significant economic potential when it comes to attracting investments, selling exports, and welcoming visitors. These factors can transform a country from a dot on a map to a place people want to invest in, live in, visit, or buy goods and services from, in short, enhancing a country’s brand.

“These factors can transform a country from a dot on a map to a place people want to invest in, live in, visit, or buy goods and services from, in short, enhancing a country’s brand.”

Here are some headlines from this year’s report:

Japan is this year’s top ranked country, as it was in FutureBrand’s 2014 report. Japan has achieved a strong balance between economic might — with strong rankings for innovation and technology — and quality of life. Its commitment to environmental friendliness, coupled with values associated with culture, harmony, and stability, are paying off.

Japan’s top global ranking comes as the country prepares to welcome thousands of athletes and visitors to the Rugby World Cup in September, and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The top 10 rankings are dominated by Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark) with four other European countries (Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Luxembourg) among the top 10. Canada rounded out the section with no surprise, as everyone loves Canada.

Source: FutureBrand Country Index | World Bank Ranking refers to the World Bank Doing Business 2019 report

The findings were not entirely favorable for some of the world’s largest countries. The United States, United Kingdom, China, Australia, and Brazil all declined in this year’s ranks amid concerns surrounding a myriad of issues, such as: polarizing politics, declining tolerance, and poor environmental performance.

For all of China’s efforts to promote its country as a rising economic superpower, China ranked 29th this year, sandwiched between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. However, Beijing was ranked as the world’s third most influential city, one spot higher than Washington D.C.

The fastest rising countries since 2014 are: Slovakia, Romania, Israel, Peru, Hungary, and Turkey. Each of these markets have improved their perceptions around stability, heritage, culture, and the quality of their products and services.

The index also ranked the most influential global cities.

The top five cities are: New York, London, Beijing, Washington D.C. and Paris. Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Seoul, Istanbul and Sydney are among the top 20 ranked cities.

Source: FutureBrand Country Index

“Cities provide a powerful sense of place marked by the highs and lows of modern urban life — whether that is crime, the cost of living, quality of infrastructure, or culture.”

Why is this important?

Many countries invest a lot of effort in promoting their image globally. A country’s public reputation among international audiences and decision makers is a source of national pride.

Many people source part of their identity from the external image of their country. So, these rankings are important because a country’s brand can be a key differentiator in its ability to attract foreign investments, promote its exports, and bring in tourism revenues — all of which will contribute to economic growth, jobs, and improved living standards.

Countries looking to improve their international perception need to have a myriad of strategies and tools in place. Promoting a country in today’s complex and global communications environment means going beyond traditional advertising campaigns.

In an era when a single event can ripple out across the planet in minutes on numerous social media platforms, a country’s reputation can be damaged instantly, and then take years to rebuild. As more of the world’s population is able to travel with an increasing use of technology, the stakes are higher than ever before.

The World Bank has been the most credible source for ranking how easy or difficult it is to do business in different countries. Now in its second decade, FutureBrand’s Index offers a different approach, using a broader value system — one based on a country’s strength beyond economic measures, in the same way experts determine the value of consumer and corporate brands.

FutureBrand’s 2019 complete report can be found here

Edited by Jennifer Shang & Lexi Mondot

For more information on public affairs consulting from us, please contact Ellen DeMunter at



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Jim Meszaros

Jim Meszaros


Washington DC | International consultant to governments, multinational corporations and foundations on global economic, trade, development and climate issues