SA has ranked 53rd out of 148 countries surveyed on the World Economic Forum's Global Competitive Index.
It was pulled down by strong ties to struggling global markets and challenges in job creation and skills development.
South Africa ranked ahead of all its Brics partners except China, who remained in 29th position, taking over second place from Brazil, who is now ranked third in 56th place, followed by India in 60th place and Russia at 64.
It took second placing in Africa behind Mauritius, who climbed nine places to 45th position. Behind South Africa was Rwanda (66th), Botswana (74th), Morocco (77th) and Nambia (90th).
The top 10, in order, are: Switzerland, Singapore, Finland, Germany, the United States, Sweden, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Japan and the United Kingdom.
South Africa scored highly on the quality of its institutions, ranking 41st overall and ranked first for the regulation of securities exchanges for the fourth consecutive year.
Director of issuer regulation for the Johannesburg Stock Exchange John Burke said: "We are very pleased with this accolade for South Africa, which indicates that the JSE is a secure and credible environment to raise capital and in which to invest."
South Africa was also ranked first for strength of auditing and reporting standards; efficacy of corporate boards and the protection of minority shareholders' interests. It took third place for financial market development.
South Africa performed badly with regards to its hiring and firing practices (147th ), its labour-employer relations (148th place) and education system (146th), no doubt encouraged by the ongoing labour issues in the mining sector.
The report said, "The country's strong ties to advanced economies, notably the euro area, make it more vulnerable to their economic slowdown and likely have contributed to the deterioration of fiscal indicators: its performance in the macroeconomic environment has dropped sharply (from 69th to 95th place)."
Released annually in September, the report rates countries on competitiveness in terms of quality of infrastructure and institutions, efficiency, market sophistication as well as capacity for innovation amongst others.