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Asian Countries Ranked as World Leaders in Economic Freedom

Hong Kong and Singapore have been ranked the world's freest economies, and Western companies have won piracy lawsuits in China.

For the twelfth year in a row, Hong Kong has been ranked as the world's freest economy, followed by Singapore in second place.

The rankings are in the 2006 "Index of Economic Freedom," released by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative U.S. research institute, and "The Wall Street Journal" newspaper. The index grades 157 countries on their level of economic freedom, including such factors as government regulation, taxation and the ease of opening a business.

Danny Gittings is deputy editor in Hong Kong of "The Wall Street Journal Asia." He says the region as a whole leads all others in terms of economic freedom. "Asia-Pacific is the single freest region in the world in terms of economic freedom," he said. "It has the two freest economies in the world, and two others in the top 10: New Zealand and Australia. There is no other place in the world that can compare with that."

However, the report also says Asia is home to more depressed economies than any other region, including Laos, Burma - and last-place finisher North Korea.

In China, several Western companies, which have long complained about copyright infringement, have won two piracy lawsuits.

Chanel, Prada, Burberry and two other luxury goods makers filed a piracy suit against Beijing Xiushui Haosen Clothing Market, which operates Beijing's Silk Street Shopping Mall. The mall is popular with bargain-hunters looking for counterfeit brand-name products.

A Beijing court said the landlord failed to stop vendors from selling pirated goods. It ordered the landlord and the vendors to pay a total of $13,000 in compensation to the plaintiffs.

And the U.S. coffee chain Starbucks also won a piracy lawsuit, against Shanghai Xing Bake Coffee Shop. Xing Bake is the Chinese name for Starbucks. A Shanghai court ordered the shop to stop using the Starbucks name and logo, and to pay the company $62,000 in damages.

2005 was a record year for trade between South and North Korea. Inter-Korean trade totaled more than one billion dollars, up 50 percent from 2004.

Trade has risen steadily since a historic summit meeting in 2000 between the leaders of the two Koreas, which are still technically at war.