Sen. Ossoff reflects on trips to India and Korea, Georgia’s goals for global clean energy leadership

During his recent trip to India, Mr. Ossoff met with Senator Ossoff met with industrialists including Natarajan Chandrasekaran, chairman of Tata Sons. Photo: Office of US Senator Jon Ossoff

As Georgia’s leadership in America’s energy transition increasingly relies on international partnerships, US Senator Jon Ossoff has clocked up air miles to ensure they remain strong.

The Democratic senator has led two Asian economic missions since his election in 2020, first to South Korea and more recently to India, which he sees as key allies in positioning Georgia as “the United States’ renewable energy and clean technology capital” and globally to open markets for Georgian companies.

Fresh from a trip to India in September, Mr. Ossoff spoke to Global Atlanta and Indian community magazine Khabar after addressing Georgia’s Indo-American Chamber of Commerce during a meeting hosted by the Gwinnett Chamber on Thursday.

His tenure (and travel) coincided with a period of uncertainty as the US seeks to strengthen post-pandemic supply chain resilience and national security, while leading a clean energy revolution heading toward the transition electric vehicles focused.

Georgia’s momentum in the EV sector started with SK On’s $2.6 billion battery plant in Commerce; Now the South Korean company is building a second facility that will double that initial investment. The complex could eventually create more than 5,000 jobs.

Mr. Ossoff took a personal interest in the investment when an intellectual property dispute between SK and competitor LG Chem threatened the viability of the Georgia plant. He met with executives from both companies in Korea and Washington that he helped broker an agreement, he said.

SK eventually agreed to pay LG $1.8 billion ahead of a commercial court ruling that could have prevented critical materials from being imported. Such a ban would have effectively halted production.

“Early on, I was engaged in building these relationships directly with Korean business leaders to support Georgia’s interests and its economic development,” Mr. Ossoff told Global Atlanta.

The trip to Korea in November 2021 was part of this effort. There he met with the then President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol and executives from Hyundai Motor, which later announced a $5.5 billion electric vehicle and battery factory near Savannah, and the Hanwha Group, whose QCELLS plant in Dalton has become the largest solar panel factory in the United States.

“I conduct international economic diplomacy on behalf of the state, assist in settling disputes between large companies that threaten the state’s economic development, and during my work develop personal relationships at the highest level with both Korean and Indian companies that are involved potential investors in Georgia are opening foreign markets to Georgian producers,” said Mr. Ossoff.

IRA complicates equation for foreign automakers

But Mr. Ossoff’s affection for South Korea and his energy and security priorities clashed in the Inflation Reduction Act, the president’s $369 billion climate, health and tax package biden Law signed August 16th.

The bill contains ambitious incentives for manufacturing solar panels that Mr. Ossoff originally introduced through separate Senate legislation. His plan includes tax credits not only for the production of solar panels, but also for polysilicon, cells, wafers and the panels themselves.

“China’s industrial dominance in the solar supply chain has become unsustainable,” he said, citing concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang and the broader strategic value of solar technologies at a time of rising energy prices and climate concerns.

“The demand for these technologies, products and components is growing very rapidly, so we need this industrial base in the US and the legislation should support the development of domestic production at every stage of the solar supply chain.”

Solar manufacturers, including Georgia’s QCELLS and Gvinnett-based Suniva, have long welcomed domestic stimulus and anti-dumping duties on Chinese manufacturers.

But critics have pointed out that US incentives for winners could increase costs and hurt installers, who employ far more people than manufacturers. Mr. Ossoff referred to the strategic nature of the sector rather than its guiding principle.

“We are already seeing, as my legislation became law, (capital expenditures) announced in states across the country. That doesn’t mean that risks don’t remain or that the development of this integrated domestic supply chain is assured, but that’s the strategic outcome we’re striving for,” he said.

While the IRA has been a boon for solar companies, it has also frustrated Korean firms like SK, Hyundai and Kia Motors, who say EV regulatory stimulus could hit them hard while pumping billions into the US – and Georgian – manufacturing in this sector.

As previously noted, the $7,500 government tax credit for new model buyers only applies to EVs with final assembly in the United States, Canada, or Mexico.

Kia, Hyundai and Genesis all have plans to manufacture electric vehicles in the United States, but in the meantime their Korean-made models have become relatively more expensive due to the law.

Mr. Ossoff’s Senate colleague, Democrat Raphael Warnock, introduced legislation last Thursday that would delay the final assembly requirement by three years.

Batteries are another battlefield. Half of the incentive is conditional on the battery being assembled in North America, while the other half requires at least 40 percent of the battery’s critical minerals to be sourced from the United States or its free trade partners. That percentage will increase by 10 percent annually until it reaches 100 in 2029.

SK and many other companies still source many of their raw materials from China and claim it will take years to find alternative sources or build a recycling chain.

When asked about this, Mr. Ossoff said only that he was in “high-level discussions with Korean automakers and the government on how to maximize the benefit to the state of Georgia.”

India’s ‘Borderless Opportunity’

In India, where Mr. Ossoff met with industrialists from conglomerates invested in Georgia such as Birla Group, Tata Sons and Mahindra, the senator sees “unlimited potential” and not just one direction.

“This is not just about the potential for Indian FDI in Georgia. This is also about Georgia farmers getting a fair chance to sell in the Indian market and Georgia companies having the understanding and access – both market access and just practical business access – to a $1.2 billion strong market,” he said of growth prospects for Georgia’s “globally competitive” export goods, as well as services such as fintech.

US-India technological ties could help create a framework for setting global “conditions of digital exchanges”, including privacy standards.

“The flow of data — proprietary business data and consumer personal data — must be governed by traffic rules that protect the integrity of that data, consumer privacy and corporate intellectual property.”

Through the trip, he also hoped to strengthen strategic and security ties with the world’s largest democracy, while underscoring the importance of people-to-people exchanges, which are supported in Georgia by a diaspora of Indian origin of more than 100,000 people.

“I think it was a great trip, not only because of the economic diplomacy, but also because of the personal relationships I developed and the warmth of the interpersonal and cultural relationships that can be developed when you bring a delegation with you to do that,” he said.

He told a Khabar reporter he believed Georgia should open a trade office in India, either in Mumbai or Delhi, both of which were on his itinerary.