Brazil could reduce diesel imports by 1.2bn litres/year (317m gals/year) and save about $1bn if the country would increase its biodiesel blend rate to 7% from 5%, an executive said on Monday.

“Biodiesel prices have equalled imported diesel prices in some regions of the country,” said Sergio Beltrao, executive director at the Brazil biodiesel union Ubrabio.

Biodiesel prices in the ANP`s auctions have decreased 26% throughout 2013, Beltrao said.

According to the executive, Brazil would be prepared to meet possible biodiesel demand if the blend rates were higher.

“The country`s biodiesel programme had advanced a little bit but now is stagnated. If the blend rate increased to 10%, the Brazil biodiesel industry would be ready to meet the higher demand now,” he said.

Brazil’s biodiesel industry currently is only producing at 38% of capacity, Beltrao said.

The union has been arguing that higher blend rates would result in less diesel imports and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Currently, Brazil state-run oil company Petrobras imports about 20% of the diesel Brazil consumes and its refineries are operating at high rates, the executive said.

“Currently, domestic production can`t meet the country`s demand. Brazil consumes 59bn litres of diesel/year and imports of the fuel in 2013 have reached 10.3bn,” Beltrao said.

The delay in the start-up of several Petrobras refineries also makes the country import more diesel, as it could be producing the fuel domestically.

Petrobras plans to start-up at least three refineries by 2016, with its new Abreu e Lima refinery set to begin operations this November.

The first train will have a capacity of 115,000 bbl/day, while the second train should start operations in March 2015 and add another 115,000 bbl/day of capacity.

About 70% of the refinery’s output will be diesel, Petrobras has said. The refinery will also produce naphtha, petroleum coke and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), among other oil products.