Dispute threatening big Georgia battery plant gets White House hearing

March 19, 2019 - Atlanta - Chey Jae won (from left), SK Executive Vice Chairman, Kim Jun, SK CEO, Gov. Brian Kemp, and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross look over a full page ad in The Atlanta Journal Constitution promoting the new battery factory. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
March 19, 2019 - Atlanta - Chey Jae won (from left), SK Executive Vice Chairman, Kim Jun, SK CEO, Gov. Brian Kemp, and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross look over a full page ad in The Atlanta Journal Constitution promoting the new battery factory. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

South Korea’s SK seeks to have trade secrets ruling overturned

Two Korean companies in a trade secrets dispute that threatens a massive factory being built in Georgia argued their positions to the White House last week.

SK Innovation told officials that President Joe Biden should overturn a recent ruling that could halt its planned production of batteries for electric vehicles at its plant near Commerce, according to a company presentation.

SK also told White House officials that it will roughly double its investment in Georgia and the number of jobs it will create — if the project is allowed to continue.

In a separate meeting last week with the Biden administration, rival LG Energy Solution said the ruling should stand, according to a person familiar with the situation who declined to provide additional details.

The United States International Trade Commission ruled on Feb. 10 that SK stole battery trade secrets from LG Energy Solution. The ITC said SK could make batteries for Ford for four years and Volkswagen for two years. After that it banned SK from using components needed for battery construction for 10 years.

Biden has until next month to overturn the ruling, alter it or let it stand. SK could appeal any decision to a federal court. LG has also indicated it would consider a financial settlement that would allow SK to continue to operate the plant.

In its presentation last week to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, an executive agency, SK argued that if the ruling stands, it would threaten some of Biden’s top priorities, such as fighting climate change through the increased usage of zero-emissions vehicles.

SK also said it plans to expand the size of its Georgia investment to $5 billion from $2.6 billion, and create 6,000 jobs, up from an earlier estimate of 2,600. The additional jobs and larger investment had not been previously disclosed.

Gov. Brian Kemp has also called for Biden to overturn the ruling, saying last month that the president and his administration “have the opportunity to support thousands of hardworking Georgians.”

An SK spokeswoman declined to describe how the Biden administration officials responded to its presentation.

An LG spokesman and Biden spokesman Ike Hajinazarian declined to comment. The U.S. Trade Representative office could not be reached immediately for comment.

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