Jose Sergio Gabrielli also said on Friday that Evo Morales, Bolivia's president-elect, had offered assurances that his government would not seek to nationalise the Bolivian operations of Brazil's oil giant.

"It's better to have a bigger profit," said Gabrielli, who met Morales and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian president, in Brasilia.

"But if this bigger profit hinders investments, then it's better to have a smaller profit."

Gabrielli said Morales seemed inclined to take a business-friendly approach to negotiations with Petrobras, which is one of Bolivia's largest foreign investors.

"We need them, and they need us"

Jose Sergio Gabrielli,
Petrobras president

"We need them, and they need us," Gabrielli said, noting that 50% of the natural gas used in Brazil comes from Bolivia.

Morales previously had threatened to nationalise foreign oil companies operating in Bolivia.

Bolivia's first Indian president, who is scheduled to take office on 22 January, is expected to lay the groundwork for massive Brazilian investment in petrochemical plants, pipelines and roads in his Andean nation.