Doctors have renewed their attempt to keep foreign practitioners at bay. Although only 16 of 165 doctors who trained overseas passed Hong Kong's tough licensing examinations last year, the profession is crying 'foul' and again resorting to the claim that the SAR has an oversupply of medical practitioners. The complaint seems to be that the successful graduates come from Africa and Eastern Europe, and therefore know nothing of local culture or language. But the way to learn about local culture is by living in it. And if these applicants pass tests that so many others fail, there cannot be much doubt about their medical capabilities. As a signatory to the World Trade Organisation's General Agreement on Trade in Services, the SAR has an obligation to facilitate cross-border movement of professionals. It can bar applicants if they lack competence, but that is not the case here. During the run-up to the handover, local professional bodies took steps to sever colonial ties with their British counterparts. But while it was right to halt a system that gave undue advantage to British nationals, mild xenophobia appears to be taking its place. Since the transition, the SAR has become increasingly protectionist in its attitude towards foreign workers of all kinds. A global interchange of people from the arts and sciences encourages the pooling of professional advances and ideas that can lead to improved standards. Not even the fiercest advocate of home-grown talent would argue that Hong Kong's doctors have nothing to learn from the outside world. Similar complaints about foreigners squeezing out local practitioners have been aired by the legal profession in the past. The Bar Association objected to the hiring of London silks on the grounds that it inhibited the development of the local Bar. Fortunately, the courts did not approve this closed-shop mentality: the Chief Judge ruled that overseas lawyers should be allowed to help develop the law here, and the Chief Justice called on local barristers to accept more overseas competition. Requiring professionals trained abroad to pass a local licensing examination is reasonable. But this has also had the effect of discouraging young people from training overseas. That cannot be in the long-term interest of Hong Kong. The answer to concerns about professional standards is to seek mutual recognition of qualifications from abroad so that cross-fertilisation can continue on an equal basis.