By CELESTE NIXON Tribune Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org MARCO City MP Zhivargo Laing opened the debate in the House of Assembly on 15 financial industry related Bills that seek to make the Bahamas a more competitive jurisdiction. The global economic environment remains highly challenged, and the evolution of financial legislation must continue if the Bahamas is to stay abreast of shifting international standards, address industry challenges and increase the sector's competitiveness, Mr Laing said. The amendments are necessary for the "protection preservation, growth and development of this industry and to it's regulation to universally applied global regulatory standards," he said. With the country's financial services industry representing 15 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employing thousands of Bahamians, Mr Laing said the sector is a major player in the economy. Mr Laing said that $182 million was expended on salaries in the financial sector in 2000. So far this year, that number stands at $298 million - almost $100 million more than 10 years ago. In 2000, Mr Laing said, amendments were made to the financial services regulations in order to ensure that the Bahamas was regarded by the world's top economies as co-operative in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. In response to an international blacklisting, the Bahamas passed "new and inventive legislation" and signed a fast information exchange agreement with the United States that allowed the country to weather international economic crisis," he said. "The financial services sector of the Bahamas is resilient and has fared well in the face of global economic challenges, and fared well in the face of changes in the global standards regulating this sector." He added that all Bahamians should be proud of this accomplishment. Further, Mr Laing said, there are opportunities to further grow the industry in areas such as international insurance, fund management, aircraft and yacht registry, and corporate head quartering.