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Monday, June 24, 2024

[INTERVIEW] IRA offers opportunities to Korean businesses: Ossoff

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United States Senator Jon Ossoff from Georgia speaks Thursday in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo and the Korea JoongAng Daily at the Grand Hyatt Seoul hotel. [JANG JIN-YOUNG]
United States Senator Jon Ossoff from Georgia speaks Thursday in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo and the Korea JoongAng Daily at the Grand Hyatt Seoul hotel. [JANG JIN-YOUNG]

Jon Ossoff, the Democrat senator who represents one of the most popular U.S. states for Korean manufacturers, said that the 70-year-old bilateral alliance cannot be shaken by recent U.S. legislation or public sentiment swayed by North Korea’s provocations.

“Yes, there have been concerns, but there have also been massive opportunities for Korean businesses through the IRA to expand their operations in the United States,” Ossoff said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo and the Korea JoongAng Daily in Seoul on Thursday.

The senator from Georgia was responding to a question on whether the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a cause for concern for Korea’s electric vehicle (EV) industry, would continue to rattle relations even as the two countries celebrate the 70th anniversary of their bilateral alliance this year with a state visit.

Georgia is home to over 120 Korean companies, including Kia, which has been producing cars in the state since 2009, and Hyundai Motor, which will open an EV factory in the state by 2025. SK On, an SK Innovation subsidiary, also announced last year that EV battery-making joint venture with Ford Motor Company is to be located in Georgia.

Ossoff was in Seoul this week to lead a business delegation and meet with President Yoon Suk Yeol before his state visit to Washington this month, repeating their meeting in Seoul nearly two years ago when Yoon was a presidential candidate.

He also met with Foreign Minister Park Jin, National Security Advisor Cho Tae-yong and SK Chairman Chey Tae-won, in addition to the executives of Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Hanwha.

Ossoff said that years of trust-based interactions with business leaders in Korea have been “the basis for continued success,” adding that Koreans can “stay tuned for good news.”

The senator, whose career spanned documentary filmmaking and investigative journalism before he became the youngest sitting senator in three decades, seemed to take pride in his knowledge of — and affinity for — Korea, including its pop culture, throughout the interview at the Grand Hyatt Seoul hotel Thursday, as he recounted his four-day visit.

The following are edited excerpts of the interview.

Q. With continued investment in Georgia by Korean firms making Korea your state’s top source of foreign direct investment, how much of your attention do Korea-related affairs take up in your work in the Senate?

A. Let me begin by saying that my interest in U.S.-Korea relations is, of course, in part, a function of the extraordinary economic relationship that Korea and Georgia have. [But] there’s also more to it. I have a large Korean-American constituency. I personally love Korea, Korean culture, history and people. And as a national policymaker, I view the U.S.-Korea bilateral relationship as one of the most important strategic relationships in the world.

Q. There has been growing concern among businesses here regarding the IRA and its impact. Were you able to address this issue in your meetings this visit?

A. I am in constant communication with Korean business leaders. And it is normal for there to be a constant discussion about how to ensure that the economic relationship serves both countries’ interests. We are working to ensure that the implementation of the IRA maximizes the benefit to my home state of Georgia, where there is a strong Korean business presence and is sensitive to the needs of our allies.

Q. Earlier in the week, you also met with Hanwha Group Vice Chairman Kim Dong-kwan, whose Hanwha Solutions announced earlier this year billions of dollars of investment into solar manufacturing in Georgia. How do you explain the state’s draw for Korean manufacturers?

A. I set a goal when I took office that Georgia should lead the country in advanced energy innovation and manufacturing, and then wrote and passed into law a solar manufacturing bill, whose purpose is to establish Georgia as the center of solar manufacturing in the United States and the center of advanced energy manufacturing innovation. Georgia has very advanced research capabilities. We have world-class logistics with the busiest airport in the world and the third busiest deep-water port in the United States. I’m going to continue to lead to expand opportunities in advanced energy, in solar, in hydrogen, in batteries in automotive manufacturing and to strengthen Georgia-Korea commercial ties.

Q. The first delegation you led after you were elected to the Senate was a business delegation to Korea in November 2021, when you also met with Yoon before he was elected. What has it been like to build rapport with Yoon?  
A. I think that when you have the opportunity to meet again and build a relationship founded on trust, openness and mutual respect, that’s the foundation for a successful working relationship. So I was pleased to have had the opportunity to meet him before he was elected, and now to see him in his role as president.

Q. What do you make of the recent reconciliatory mood between Korea and Japan?

A. I have studied Korean history, and I know this is a sensitive issue. But I commend President Yoon for his courage in pursuing an improvement in relations between Korea and Japan. As leading free societies in this region and long-standing allies, the U.S., Korea and Japan, in partnership, can support one another in our mutual security and to advance our shared prosperity.
Q. With unprecedented military provocations from North Korea, there are growing voices among the South Korean public calling for either stronger extended deterrence from the United States or for South Korea to develop its own nuclear weapons. How do you see these developments?

A. I think that the U.S.-Republic of Korea armed forces together have the capability to deter and defeat any North Korean aggression, and I believe our shared goal is peace and stability on the peninsula. The high-level security consultations that I’ve had this week are part of the constant process of ensuring that our collaboration is strong and effective.

Q. Georgia has been an important state for the Biden administration, as it went from being a red state to a blue state in the 2020 election, and as the election victories that you and Sen. Raphael Warnock had in Georgia gave the administration rare control over both the Senate and the White House. As you represent the state and its transformations, how do you see the recent indictment of former President Donald Trump, who may also face further charges from prosecutors in Georgia? Is this, as some say, the beginning of an end to the so-called “Trump era”?

A. I wouldn’t make predictions about any individual politicians’ prospects. The United States is a nation of laws. I have confidence in our judicial system. It’s an independent judicial system. No one is above the law. And all are presumed innocent until proven guilty. So that the judicial process will continue, and all should respect the outcome.


Q. During your last visit to Korea, you mentioned that you’re a fan of “Mr. Sunshine,” the Korean drama series. Have you watched more Korean shows since then?
A. I have to confess that I watched much of “Mr. Sunshine” again.

BY ESTHER CHUNG,AHN CHAK-HEE,PARK HYUN-JU [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]