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COLOMBIA - Industry

Takahiro Saito

President, Sumitomo Corp


Takahiro Saito, with an outstanding professional career, was born in Japan, in 1969. He began his academic journey at Waseda University, where he graduated in Political Science in 1993. Subsequently, in April 2017, he furthered his education by completing an executive course at the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business. He embarked on his career in April 1993 at Sumitomo Corporation, and since then, he has held a series of key roles. His international experience stands out, including a period of study at the University of Veracruz under an intercompany scholarship, from June 1995 to January 1997. Over the years, he occupied various positions at Sumitomo Corporation, among in Tokyo Head office, Mexico and USA, mainly at sales & marketing in Metal business. His journey continued with more challenging roles, such as new business development and investment management. Eventually, he led significant teams and business units, including his presidency at Summit Global Trading, Vicksmetal Company, and Vicksmetal/Armco Associates, while leading teams in different areas, from steel processing to automotive product manufacturing. His journey culminated in assuming the role of President of Sumitomo Corporation Andes in April 2021.

"We have been working on hydrogen projects and the production of hydrogen on a mass scale."
TBY talks to Takahiro Saito, President of Sumitomo Corp, about recent developments in the company, demand for hydrogen in Colombia, and growth sectors going forward.
What have been the most interesting advances by Sumitomo Corp in the past year?

We have been working on hydrogen projects and the production of hydrogen on a mass scale. Initially, we were looking at the use of hydrogen in the area of mobility, though we are now looking at other areas and possibilities such as blending hydrogen with gas for example or co-firing hydrogen with LNG. We are looking at the industrial usage of hydrogen, which will help reduce CO2 emissions. The key is to be competitive in terms of production costs. The current energy mix in Colombia is fairly green, with 70% coming from hydropower. The country is also looking at large-scale wind power, offshore wind, and solar power, and hydrogen will fit in well with the country’s energy mix. Our target for mass production of hydrogen is after 2030, which gives us about 10 years to work on producing it on a large scale in line with the government’s goal to stop oil exploration by then. The current government is also concerned about the environment, which means we do not expect any change in direction or legislation.

How do you plan to incentivize demand for hydrogen in the Colombian market?

It will take time and a great deal of support from the government such as subsidies, for example, which is not the case in Colombia at this moment. That is why it will still take some time, even though there have been positive developments in the transportation industry, for example, in terms of electric buses and the bus rapid transit (BRT) system; however, for transport situations that require larger cargo capacities or longer distances, EVs cannot be a solution. That is where hydrogen can come in. Still, at the moment there is a cost issue, which the government has to support via subsidies.

What other interesting projects are currently underway in Colombia?

We want to fully utilize digital transformation. For example, in the area of agriculture, we have invested in a company called Summit Agro that distributes agrochemicals. Cut flowers are a major sector in Colombia, and it is the second-biggest supplier in the world behind the Netherlands. However, there is a significant labor shortage in the sector, even though the unemployment rate of young people in Colombia is about 23%, since most younger people do not want to work in farms or factories. Flower farms in the country always have a labor shortage, which is why we are looking to bring in technologies from Japan. Given the high average age of workers in Japan, it focuses heavily on optimizing technology, and we are positive we can bring in various technologies into Colombia to help solve the pain points of farmers.

Which sectors offer the greatest potential for significant future growth in Colombia?

The agro industry has excellent potential given that the country has rich natural resources, amazing weather, and plenty of available land. In addition, the government is focused on reducing poverty and spurring employment in rural areas, which is why it is focusing not only on cultivating agricultural produce but also on adding value to and exporting products in the industry. We see immense potential in the industry, especially compared to Brazil or Argentina, which cultivate items such as grain on a large scale whereas Colombia produces more nutritious and high-value items like avocado. Furthermore, globally, animal-based protein is placing bigger burdens on the environment, which is why we expect an increase in plant-based protein. Securing protein as a resource for humans is becoming a major challenge that is also related to environmental sustainability. In the cattle industry, we are also looking at decarbonizing the cattle supply chain, utilizing different kinds of pastures that could perhaps absorb more CO2, or help cattle grow faster so that they can utilize less water. We are working on a project with the local entities in Colombia to develop feed additives that will help cattle grow faster and reduce the burden on the environment. This will be an important project not just for Colombia, but also the global environment. We are currently at the initial stages, though the project looks set to be extremely interesting.



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