A Big Decision for Georgia’s Economy, Right Before Election Day

US
President Donald Trump is greeted by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp as he arrives at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Ga., July 15, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Whether or not you think Georgia ought to be classified as a swing state — the last Democrat to win Georgia was Bill Clinton, winning a plurality with 43.4 percent in 1992 — the polling suggests Joe Biden has a shot, and at least one of the two Senate races look competitive, if not both.

In a matter of days, the little-known U.S. International Trade Commission could reach a decision with sizable consequences for Georgia’s economy. What’s more, President Trump may have the opportunity to throw his weight around to ensure the Peach State gets good news, just a few days before Election Day.

In March 2019, Korean energy company SK Innovation announced plans to build a massive, $1.7 billion plant to manufacture lithium-ion batteries for hybrid electric vehicles. It’s the sort of giant job-creating project that make incumbent lawmakers ecstatic. Back in 2019, Georgia governor Brian Kemp declared, “with great partners like SK Innovation at our side, I know our best days are ahead.”

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But another South Korean battery manufacturing company, LG Chem, claimed SK Innovation had infringed upon its patents and committed “misappropriation of trade secrets,” and in June 2019, filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission. In February, an administrative law judge determined that SK Innovation had “spoliated evidence,” and in April, the ITC announced they were launching a full investigation.

Late last month, the ITC announced it was postponing the target date for completion of its investigation from October 5 to October 26. If the ITC determines that SK Innovation stole trade secrets, it would effectively cancel the plans for the new manufacturing facility. This could have far-reaching economic consequences beyond Georgia, as Ford and Volkswagen had already planned on buying batteries from SK once its new manufacturing facility in George was completed; the coming electric Ford F-150 truck is slated to use SK batteries. This is the sort of bad news that elected officials dread, right before an election.

In other words, Monday morning, the ITC could cancel one of the biggest new manufacturing products in Georgia history and create awful headlines. But there’s a catch.

The ITC describes itself as an “independent, nonpartisan, quasi-judicial federal agency that fulfills a range of trade-related mandates,” but there is one glaring difference from a court of law: All ITC decisions must be sent to the U.S. president for review, and the president has 60 days to review and potentially veto an ITC decision.

The ITC could cancel the new plant from SK Innovation . . . and President Trump could step in and veto the ITC decision and save the plant, right before Election Day in Georgia.

Doesn’t that sound like exactly the role that Trump would want to play?

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