SAO PAULO, April 20 (Reuters) - The private sector should increase its participation in the Brazilian market for refined products over the next several years as state-run oil company Petrobras shifts away from downstream operations and the sector prepares for higher imports.
Market participants believe Petrobras' financial woes will clear the way for private investments, mostly in logistics. A rising gap in locally produced fuels could also spur projects in port terminals, ethanol plants and even refineries, depending on clearer rules to be set by a likely new government.
Brazil's leftist President Dilma Rousseff suffered a humiliating loss in a crucial impeachment vote in the lower house of Congress on Sunday.
Brazil is the world's fourth largest fuels market, despite ranking ninth among the largest economies. It relies heavily on road transportation for goods and passengers, requiring high diesel volumes.
"We are going to see a wave of change in the sector as Petrobras focuses on upstream," said Leonardo Gadotti Filho, vice president for logistics, fuels trading and distribution at Raízen, the joint venture between ethanol producer Cosan Industria e Comercio SA and Royal Dutch Shell Plc .
Cosan Chairman Rubens Ometto said earlier this month the company will carefully evaluate the assets that Petrobras eventually puts up for sale.
Scandal-plagued and debt-heavy Petrobras, formally known as Petróleo Brasileiro SA, aims to raise $15 billion through divestments by the end of 2016, including 30 percent from downstream businesses.
The company does not have detailed plans, but media reports have suggested it might sell controlling stakes in fuel distribution company BR Distribuidora and in pipeline systems.
"The whole primary logistics should be passed on to private players," said Gadotti, referring to stocking sites, pipelines and port terminals.
He said the structure will need to be upgraded for expected volume increases and efficiency gains, expanding the use of pipelines and trains to substitute for trucks.
"We have a large challenge ahead," said José Augusto Dutra Nogueira, head of operations at Companhia Brasileira de Petróleo Ipiranga, Brazil's second largest fuel distributor.
Nogueira included the need to expand port capacity to receive imported fuel in several states in the country.
ANP, Brazil's oil and fuels watchdog, projects a large increase in refined product imports as soon as the economy returns to growth.
ANP sees imports reaching 742,000 barrels per day in 2026 from 323,000 bpd in 2015 if no new refining capacity is added.
Luiz Augusto Horta, a downstream expert at Unifei University, said new investments in refining and ethanol production will only come when the government sets a clear and predictable fuels pricing policy. (Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)