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How bitter Korean rivals settled a rift that threatened Georgia battery plant

Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Business News

ATLANTA — As two rival South Korean industrial giants barreled toward a Sunday deadline still locked in a bitter U.S. trade dispute, Georgia officials grew increasingly worried a $2.6 billion SK Innovation project in Commerce that could employ 2,600 people would fall victim to the intractable feud.

Most Georgia politicians joined calls urging President Joe Biden to veto a trade commission decision that was in favor of the company’s adversary, LG Energy Solution, which would have torpedoed the project, one of the largest economic development deals in state history.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff took a different approach, one that the manufacturer’s top executive credited for helping to end the rift.

The $1.8 billion settlement announced Sunday allows SK Innovation to complete construction of sprawling factories that will supply batteries for Ford and Volkswagen electric vehicles and serve as a key part of Biden’s plan to build U.S.-based infrastructure for electric vehicles.

The pact also spares Biden of a difficult decision that could have alienated voters in Georgia, a state he narrowly won in November and is primed to be one of the nation’s most competitive political battlegrounds in 2022.

Ossoff, the newly elected Democrat from Georgia, figured a presidential veto was a long shot at best and instead set about trying to broker a negotiated settlement between SK Innovation and LG Energy, according to three senior officials familiar with the discussions.

 

But it required intense negotiations between two firms with a long history of distrust. At stake was no less than a cornerstone of Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure program, which aims to rev up the nation’s electric vehicle supply chain.

Back in February, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled in favor of LG that SK stole trade secrets. It ruled SK could only make batteries for Ford for four years and Volkswagen for two years. After that it banned SK from importing components needed for making batteries for 10 years. It also scolded SK in its full opinion, issued in March, for destroying documents.

On April 2, less than two weeks before Biden’s deadline, Ossoff flew from Atlanta to Washington to meet with the chief executive of SK Innovation for more than three hours to prod the company to strike a deal and outline several potential pathways to an agreement.

Congress was in recess and Ossoff and the executives were set to meet in a conference room near the Senate floor, but the group quickly relocated to a nearby hotel when Capitol Hill shut down after a man rammed his car into a police barricade, leaving one officer dead and another injured.

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