FIELD OF DREAMS

Colombia 2016 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Alberto Zuñiga, General Director of BASF Colombia, on expansion and opportunities for business in Colombia's agriculture sector.

Alberto Zuñiga
BIOGRAPHY
Alberto Zuñiga was born in Cali, Colombia. He has an MBA from Javeriana University Business School Ecuador IDE. In 2000, he was Manager of the Unit of BASF Crop Protection in Ecuador before being promoted in Brazil as head of strategic marketing for Latin America in 2003. He returned to Ecuador in 2005, assuming the position of CEO of BASF Ecuador. In 2008 he took on the challenge of Unit Manager for Crop Protection BASF 2010 and was promoted as Director General of Central America and the Caribbean based in Costa Rica. In April 2015, he was appointed as CEO of BASF for Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

What is your manufacturing capacity here in Colombia?

We only have a factory here in Colombia for construction chemical products. This is where we produce additives for concrete so that the customer can change the features of the concrete to make it easier to dry or to delay the drying process to enable it to be more resistant and solid. Through these additives they can add features to the concrete depending on their needs. If a customer is going to build a bridge then he or she will have different requirements compared to constructing a building, for example.

How will the new plant in Brazil strengthen your position, particularly in the Colombian market?

We opened what we call the Chemical Complex in Camacari, which is related to the butyl acrylate value chain. There you can produce monomers such as butyl acrylate and acrylic acid, and from that you can derive the production of super absorbent polymers. We are already seeing positive results because we are supplying customers here with acrylic acid and monomers from the butyl acrylate, but we are also supplying customers locally with the super absorbent polymer. For example, these polymers are used for diaper production here in Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador with local customers and globalized ones like Procter & Gamble and Kimberly Clark.

How competitive is your market in Colombia in terms price, innovation, and foreign and local investment?

There are many customers who have more possibilities to export to external markets. This is one of the positive impacts of the 70% depreciation over the last 18 months. This reduction in terms of the dollar is giving some advantages to our customers who have export capabilities and the opportunity to capitalize abroad. With the depreciation the country gains competitiveness against other nations where it has not been possible to devaluate. Even against countries with a strong devaluation such as Brazil we are gaining competitiveness. It takes some time to adjust and in other areas we see that it is difficult.

How will infrastructure developments increase demand for BASF chemicals?

We have a presence in almost all industries. We can go into infrastructure through different routes. We have the chemical construction division, one of BASF's 13 different business units. We can also do so by supplying chemicals to customers who are present in the infrastructure sector. There we have dispersions, resins, and other chemicals like monomers, which are used to produce dispersions. We can reach the infrastructure sector in different ways.

How does the agriculture sector factor into your portfolio in Colombia?

Agriculture is one of the main sectors, and it will increase in importance in the future. Colombia and Ecuador have huge potential to export fresh produce or agricultural commodities. We have a strong portfolio and are investing in the registration of new products and technology. Innovation will continue to play a critical role in the development of agriculture. Sustainability is key, because if you want to export to consumers in Europe or the US, the market wants to know if the bananas or pineapples are produced in a sustainable manner. This is where we are strong; we work with small and large growers to improve capabilities for a more sustainable agriculture sector.

What are your expectations for 2016?

It will be a challenging year because we started with depreciation, inflation, and El Niño. What will really help us develop positively is being closer to our customers to know what they need, work in collaboration with them, understand their needs, and together create new products and solutions for the market. Sustainability drives will help us differentiate our offers to our customers and the market. Last but not least, the development of our internal capabilities is crucial; the development of our team to understand the market and be able to tackle the opportunities that will arise out there.