SK plants in Commerce

SK facilities under construction in Commerce.

The future of the SK Battery plant could rest in the hands of President Joe Biden, a political leader whom the local community resoundingly reject in the Nov. 3 election.

The International Trade Commission ruled on Feb. 10 that SK had stolen trade secrets from its rival, LG Chem, and imposed a ban on SK's ability to import parts to make electric vehicle batteries at its two plants being constructed in Commerce. The ban is for 10 years, with two major exceptions.

The move is a dire threat to the future of those facilities, a $2.6 billion investment that plans to hire over 2,600 employees.

“We have serious concerns about the commercial and operational implications of this decision for the future of our EV-battery facility in Commerce, Georgia,” SK said in a statement about the decision.

The ITC ruling does allow the firm to make EV batteries for Ford EV F-150 production for a period of two years and for VW for four years. But the business implications of that would be for the plants to start production, then shut down for 6 years.

IN PRESIDENT'S HANDS

There are two possible ways the ITC's decision could change.

First, President Biden has 60 days to overrule the commission's decision, something some observers believe he might do. Biden has voiced support for "clean" energy and domestic production of EV batteries.

In addition, thousands of jobs are on the line, not just at the Commerce facilities, but also with VW and Ford. A disruption of a battery supplier could slow the two firm's EV production, costing additional jobs.

Gov. Brian Kemp called on Biden to overrule the ITC in the SK case.

“Litigation in these disputes is always complex, and there are several additional levels of review prior to a final resolution – along with the possibility of a settlement," Kemp said. "President Biden and his administration also have the opportunity to support thousands of hardworking Georgians – and their communities – who would benefit from SK Innovation’s continued success in our state. I sincerely hope Georgia’s congressional delegation will join me in advocating for swift presidential action.”

If Biden does overrule the ITC and allows SK to proceed, it would be an ironic political twist. By far, the Northeast Georgia area supported Donald Trump in the November presidential election. Jackson County voted for Trump by nearly 80%. 

The second way for the ITC decision to be erased would be for SK and LG Chem to negotiate an agreement that allows SK to import the technology needed to produce its batteries in Commerce. 

According to a Korean newspaper, LG Chem has said it's open to discussion with SK about that possibility.

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