Geneva: Brazil’s government will decide which company is awarded a seven-billion-dollar contract for 36 high-tech fighter jets, a minister said Wednesday, after the air force backed a different supplier.

“The final decision is still political,” Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said in Geneva.

“Obviously we will study (and) take into account what is in the (technical) reports” but “it’s for the minister of defence and the president of the republic (Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva) to decide,” he told journalists.

“It’s not an exclusively military decision,” he added.

A Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper report on Tuesday said the Brazilian Air Force’s first choice was the NG Gripen by Sweden’s Saab, and not the government’s pick, the French Rafale, which was more expensive.

It reported that the French jet was not even the Air Force’s second choice. The runner-up was the F/A-18 Super Hornet by US group Boeing.

According to a 30,000-page report by the Brazilian Air Force “the financial factor has been key in putting the Gripen NG which is still in its early phase of development in the top spot … It is the cheapest of the three competitors.”

The paper said “Saab is putting up the Gripen for half the price of the Rafale, at about 70 million dollars, and a one-hour flight is four times cheaper than that of a Rafale.”

The Rafale, a multirole fighter made by Dassault, has been considered the frontrunner since the Brazilian president and French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy announced jointly in September that Brazil was negotiating to buy the delta-winged aircraft.

If that intent to purchase was confirmed, it would be the first export sale of the Rafale, possibly making it more attractive to other potential buyers Switzerland and India.

But Saab and Boeing are fighting fiercely to land the Brazilian contract, reportedly slashing prices to do so.

Dassault has said that if Brasilia was to choose the Rafale the first six aircraft would be built in France and the 30 others assembled in Brasil.

French Defence Minister Herve Morin on Wednesday lampooned the competitors’ going rates, comparing the French fighter to a Ferrari racing car and its Swedish competitor to a Volvo family vehicle.

“The Rafale is the only multi-mission aircraft in the world, the only aircraft capable of air defence, ground attack and reconnaisance missions,” he said.

“The Gripen is a plane that does not fly and does not exist but in the manufacturer’s development department,” he added.

“These are rumours published by a newspaper. We are facing extremely tough competition and in a competition like this rumours are flying from all sides.”

Sarkozy’s office would not comment on the reports from Brazil saying it was not concerned about the Rafale’s chances.