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Sinopec, China’s biggest oil refiner by volume, has signed a $5.2bn deal that will give it a 30 per cent stake in the Brazilian assets of Galp Energia, the Portuguese energy company.

The deal is the latest in a string of Chinese oil investments in Brazil, where rich oil resources lie offshore in deepwater areas that require a lot of capital to develop.

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Galp Energia, which has a market cap of $11bn, started a bidding process earlier this year looking for a partner to help finance its Brazilian projects, which include four offshore blocks in the pre-salt Santos Basin.

Under the terms of the deal, Galp subsidiaries Petrogal Brasil and Galp Brazil Services will issue new shares equivalent to 30 per cent of the enlarged shareholder base, which will be purchased by Sinopec for $4.8bn. State-owned Sinopec will pay a further $390m to cover shareholder loans, bringing the total transaction to $5.2bn.

Sinopec will also have board seats and representation in the company as part of the deal, underscoring their keen interest in acquiring expertise in the technically challenging pre-salt fields of Brazil.

“The acquisition has further expanded Sinopec’s overseas oil and gas business operations, which will make major contributions to the company’s oil and gas output growth in the 12th and 13th five-year plan periods,” the Chinese group said.

Galp shares fell 11 per cent in Lisbon on Friday morning on the news, their biggest decline for three years.

The Galp deal will deepen the involvement of Chinese state-owned companies in Brazil’s potentially lucrative pre-salt oil fields, so-called because they lie in deep water under two kilometres of salt. With the transaction, Beijing is rapidly becoming one of the most important bilateral partners in the Latin American country’s efforts to develop the oil sector.   Brazil needs massive investment to develop the pre-salt and Petrobras, the state run oil company, is undertaking what is regarded as the world’s biggest corporate capital expenditure programme, valued at $225bn over the next five years.

“The petroleum sector is a sector that in the medium and long-term will bring a good return – the Chinese have already realised this,” said Erick Scott an analyst at São Paulo-based brokerage SLW. “And Brazil still has great potential in terms of new reserves and discoveries.”

But Brazilian politicians may become suspicious of such widespread involvement in such a strategic industry by entities controlled by the Chinese government. Last year, Brazil passed a law restricting foreign ownership of farmland amid concern that Chinese investors were eyeing large areas of the country’s rich agricultural lands.

However, Chinese companies have been major investors in Brazil’s offshore oil fields, with recent deals including Sinopec’s $7.1bn purchase of a stake in the Brazilian assets of Repsol YPF last year. Sinochem, the Chinese chemicals company, bought a $3.1bn stake in the Peregrino oil field from Statoil last year.

Sinopec and other oil groups were also in talks over BG’s Brazilian assets in recent months, although those talks have since collapsed, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

In 2009, the Chinese government inked a $10bn oil-for-loan deal with Brazil, under which Sinopec is guaranteed a certain amount of crude supplies over a decade.

Chinese state-owned oil companies have done more than $20bn in deals this year, making China one of the world’s top acquirers in the oil and gas sector, alongside the US and the UK.

China is the world’s biggest energy consumer and second-biggest consumer of crude oil and Beijing has long viewed the country’s reliance on imported crude, which supplies about half of China’s total oil consumption, as a strategic weakness.

Galp’s Brazilian assets account for some 90 per cent of its total reserves, and include more than 20 exploration and production projects. Eni of Italy holds a 33 per cent stake in Galp which it tried to sell to Petrobras of Brazil earlier this year, but the deal fell through. The Portuguese government also has a stake in Galp.

Sinopec was advised on the deal by Société Générale of France. Galp was advised on the sell side by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan, and UBS.

By Leslie Hook in Beijing