Tapping Brazil's huge offshore oil reserves will require foreign investment that only cash-rich Chinese banks are in a position to provide, industry experts said.
Alvaro Teixera of the Brazilian Petroleum, Gas and Biofuels Institute IBP told an energy forum that cumulative expenditures in the sector until 2020 were estimated to reach $400 billion.
"We need foreign capital and technology," he told the Mare Forum on shipping and offshore business opportunities in Brazil.
For the 2011-2015 period, industry experts have forecast investments of $258 billion, of which 83.3 percent will come from Brazil's state-owned energy giant Petrobras, he added.
Oil from the so-called pre-salt offshore fields will be the engine fueling Brazil's economic growth in the coming decades, the experts said.
The fields, located off Brazil's southeast Atlantic coast deep beneath the ocean floor and hot salt-beds, hold reserves that could surpass 100 billion barrels of high-quality recoverable crude, according to Brazil's National Petroleum Agency.
Ugo Salerno, chief executive of the Genoa-based shipping classification firm RINA, said that Brazil's current production of 2.9 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) is forecast to jump to 7.6 million BOE by 2020, which would turn the country into the world's fifth largest producer.
About 53 percent of the total is expected to come from the pre-salt reserves.
Paul Schulte, a US banker who is a director at China Construction Bank, said that only cash-flush Chinese banks had the deep pockets needed to invest in Brazil's energy sector.
He said that European and US banks had invested massively in 2008-2009 in dry bulk carriers -- vessels designed to carry items like minerals and grain -- but the business subsequently collapsed.
"These banks are going to be eating those losses for a very long time," Schulte said. "European banks are going to shrink regardless of the outcome for Greece, Spain (the eurozone debt crisis)."
He urged the Brazilian oil industry to lobby Congress in Brasilia for tax changes.
Brazil "needs to tax consumption and get tax breaks for investment" to lure Chinese banks, Schulte said.
Currently those banks see a friendlier business environment in Africa, he said.
In 2009, China dislodged the United States as Brazil's largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching $77 billion last year and Brazil enjoying a trade surplus of some $11.5 billion.
Beijing is also the largest investor in the South American nation.
Iron ore and soybeans represent more than 80 percent of Brazil's exports to China, which in turn sells mostly manufactured goods to Brazil.
This resource-rich South American powerhouse, now the world's sixth largest economy, is expected to vault into fourth place by 2050, according to International Monetary Fund statistics.