The National Today

Trump's tariff talk triggers EU retaliatory plan

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National newsletter's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

President Donald Trump during a meeting at the White House on March 1, where he announced that the U.S. plans to impose tariffs of 25 per cent on steel imports and 10 per cent on imported aluminum. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


TODAY:

  • EU reveals list of  American-made items that will be subject to new 25 per cent import duties if the U.S. President follows through on his plan to impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum
  • Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were attacked with a nerve agent, U.K. police say
  • Thirsty Cape Town to offset demands of big cycling race and marathon by trucking in drinking water, using "recycled" water for ice


Hitting American where it hurts

It looks like Donald Trump is going to get his trade war.

This morning, the European Union unveiled its list of American-made items that will be subject to new 25 per cent import duties if the U.S. President follows through on his plan to impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum.

European Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday that the EU has compiled a list of American-made items that will be subject to new 25 per cent import duties if U.S. tariffs go ahead. (Eric Vidal/Reuters)
"We have made it clear that a move that hurts the EU and puts thousands of European jobs in jeopardy will be met with a firm and proportionate response," Cecilia Malmström, the  European Commissioner for Trade, told a Brussels press conference.  

As had been previously hinted — and slyly reinforced by Malmström's choice of apparel, a black leather jacket — the EU list includes Harley Davidson motorcycles, blue jeans and bourbon.

But there were close to 100 additional items, including self-tapping screws, step-ladders, bed linen, lipstick, manicure sets, kitchen sinks, and appliances for "baking, frying and grilling." (We're looking at you, George Foreman.)

Steel is loaded at a plant of German steel manufacturer Salzgitter AG in Germany on March 1. German steel could be subject to proposed U.S. tariffs on foreign steel imports. (Fabian Bimmer/Reuters)
Food imports will also be taxed, including cranberries, juices, corn, rice and the iconic American breakfast staple — peanut butter.

As will more rarified, one-percenter purchases like yachts, sail craft and power boats.

Trump's proposed tariffs — 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum — are being levied under a 1962 act that gives the president power to limit trade for reasons of "national security."

But today, Malmström wondered aloud how the act applies to "traditional allies."

"We cannot see how the European Union, friends and allies in NATO, can be a threat to international security in the U.S.," she said.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence greet Harley Davidson President and CEO Matthew S. Levatich, right, on the South Lawn of the White House in 2017. Harley Davidson motorcycles are an item that would be subject to proposed EU tariffs. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)
Similar questions have already been raised within the White House. Gary Cohn, Trump's chief economic advisor and former Wall St. banker, resigned in protest Tuesday.

And this morning, the U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross indicated that the resident's position might be more flexible than it appears -- at least when it comes to Canada and Mexico.

"We're not trying to blow up the world. There's no intention of that," Ross said in an interview on the CNBC network. "We're not looking for a trade war. We're going to have very sensible relations with our allies."

Although Trump's daily tweet-fest suggests otherwise.

Today the U.S. Commerce Department announced that the country's trade deficit hit $56.6 billion US in January -- a nine-year high.

And America's trade imbalance with China — the world's No. 1 steel producer — is only getting worse, up 16 per cent to $36 billion.


Skripal poisoned by nerve agent

British authorities say they now know what the mystery substance was that caused a former Russian spy and his daughter to fall deathly ill last weekend — a nerve agent.

Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, remain in critical condition in a hospital in Salisbury, England. On Sunday evening, they were discovered passed out on a park bench near a downtown shopping mall.

At Scotland Yard this afternoon, Mark Rowley, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told reporters that lab tests suggest that the illnesses were caused by a nerve agent, and that the victims were "targeted specifically" in an act of "attempted murder."

Investigators are seen next to a police tent outside The Mill public house at the Maltings in Salisbury, England, on Tuesday night. The site is near to where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found critically ill on Sunday. (Steve Parsons/Associated Press)
Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence colonel who was arrested in 2006 and sentenced to 13 years in jail for "high treason," having allegedly worked as British double agent since the early 1990s.

He was pardoned by then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in July 2010, and was included in a swap for 10 deep-cover "sleeper agents" that the Russians had placed in the United States.

Skripal was later granted U.K. residency and obtained a house in Salisbury, the sleepy cathedral town southeast of London where Sunday's incident took place.

His daughter Yulia was visiting from her home in Russia.

Former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal attends a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court in Moscow on Aug. 9, 2006. (Yuri Senatorov/Kommersant/AFP/Getty Images)
The news came after footage emerged of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, appearing to vow revenge on Skripal and other "traitors."

In an appearance on Russian television in 2010, Putin was asked about the spy swap that saw Skripal and three other Russians sent to the West.

"Traitors will kick the bucket. Trust me. These people betrayed their friends, their brothers in arms," Putin said. "Whatever they got in exchange for it, those 30 pieces of silver they were given, they will choke on them."

Today, Rowley refused to specify which nerve agent police believe was involved.

But Russia is among the handful of nations that have stockpiles of both Sarin and VX.

Yulia Skripal, the daughter of former Russian Spy Sergei Skripal, seen in an image from her Facebook account. Both remain in hospital in critical condition. (Yulia Skripal/Facebook via AP)
Sarin, developed in Germany in the 1930s, is odourless and colourless, and as little as one drop can cause death within 15 minutes.

VX, invented by a British scientist in the 1950s, comes in liquid, gas and cream form, and exposure to just 10 milligrams can be fatal. VX is what authorities believe was used to kill Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, in an attack at a Malaysian airport last year.

British authorities say they don't believe that there is any health risk to the general public, but a restaurant and a pub that Skripal and his daughter visited on Sunday remained closed while investigators combed the premises.


B.Y.O.W.

Cape Town's water crisis isn't going to end anytime soon.

As of Monday, average reservoir levels across the Western Cape of South Africa stood at 20.83 per cent of capacity. On Wednesday, the Theewaterskloof Dam, which supplies most of Cape Town's potable water, was at just 10.9 per cent of capacity.

The Theewaterskloof Dam, which supplies most of Cape Town's potable water, is seen on Feb. 20. The grey area is usually submerged, but due to persistent drought, the government said the reservoir was at just 10.9 per cent of capacity on Wednesday. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)
And while conservation efforts have pushed back "Day Zero" — the projected date at which reserves drop to 13.5 per cent and the city shuts off everyone's taps — to mid-July, there's no guarantee that the June-September winter rains will be enough to help the city of 4 million recover from record water lows.

So what do you do if you are organizing events that bring tens of thousands of thirsty visitors to drought-stricken Cape Town?

Truck it in from the wetter parts of South Africa.

The Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust announced Tuesday that it will add 2.2 millions litres of potable water to the city's reservoirs to make-up for what 15,000 participants and spectators will drink and flush during the March 11 event.

People ruin in The Two Oceans Marathon in 2013 in Cape Town. This year's race is scheduled for Easter Saturday and is expected to attract some 26,000 runners. (Gallo Images/Getty Images)
The water, which has been donated by the municipality of Swellendam, 220 kilometres east of the city, will be delivered by tankers owned by the local Coca-Cola bottler. It's estimated that it will take 90 trips and almost two weeks to complete the water transfer.

Race organizers have also committed to other measures to limit consumption, including:

  • Reducing the number of hydration stations along the route to a "medically essential" 14.
  • Bringing in 360 "grey water" porta-potties.
  • Installing waterless hand washing stations. 
  • Using cement blocks rather than H2O containers to weigh down temporary structures.

The move follows similar conservation measures instituted by Cape Town's Two Oceans Marathon, which is scheduled for Easter Saturday and attracts some 26,000 runners each year. Drinking water for this year's 49th edition will come from a natural spring, rather than municipality taps. Ice used to keep everything cool will be made from "recycled," not-for-human-consumption water sources. Organizers have also made the switch to chemical toilets, and done away with shower stations at the marathon finish.

Residents of Cape Town fill up a containers with water from a polluted river on Feb. 2. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)
However, all these voluntary efforts to save water belie the far less friendly preparations that authorities are making should it become necessary for the local government to turn off the taps.

Day-Zero plans call for a ration of 25 litres per day per person — half of the current, and often ignored, daily limit for Cape Town residents.

Police don't expect the transition to go smoothly. Late last month, provincial police commissioner Major General Mpumelele Manci told legislators that his force and the army are ready to guard and escort water truck deliveries to the city's distribution points — managing to make it sound like a Mad Max sequel.

"Whatever threat is coming, we shall be able to deal with it," he said.

The 187 planned water pod locations have already been categorized by risk — low, medium and high. Some 600 armed cops and soldiers will be dispatched to oversee the distribution to the public, while the riot squad will be on "permanent standby" in case of unrest.  

People queue to collect water from a spring in the Newlands suburb of Cape Town on Jan. 25. Day-Zero plans call for a ration of 25 litres per day per person, half of the current daily limit for Cape Town residents. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)
But such safeguards may not be enough to avoid trouble.

Two South African academics recently the crunched the numbers surrounding Cape Town's emergency distribution plan and came to the conclusion that the lines will be long, and likely unruly.

Each of the distribution points will have to operate smoothly for 12.5 hours a day to get everyone their daily ration, according to their modelling. A figure that shoots up to 25 hours in the event of "random shocks" or conflict.


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Quote of the moment

"What happened to (Sergei) Skripal has been immediately used to further incite the anti-Russian campaign in Western media. It's a traditional campaign. The tradition is to make things up."

- Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, reacting to questions about Kremlin involvement in the suspected poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter.

Spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

What The National is reading

  • Syrian forces step up attacks on Ghouta as death toll rises (CBC)
  • Holocaust museum revokes award to Aung San Suu Kyi (NY Times)
  • Why Coca-Cola is finally getting into the booze business (Fortune)
  • Nova Scotia school closed following racist graffiti, social media threat (CBC)
  • Wisconsin company set to suck 7 million gallons out of Great Lakes (Chicago Tribune)
  • NME to end print edition after 66 years (Telegraph)
  • U.S. tech billionaire seeks to limit beach access rights through Supreme Court (LA Times)
  • 'Super Monster Wolf' a success in Japan farming trials (BBC)

Today in history

March 7, 1978: Pro-seal hunt media campaign escalates

It was never going to be a fair fight — Newfoundland Premier Frank Moores and a panel of fisheries experts versus French actress Brigitte Bardot and some cuddly harp seal pups. The Newfoundland government spent $160,000 trying to get its side of the story out before the beginning of 1978's sealing season. And it was a total waste, thanks mostly to the efforts of the hunt's most outspoken critic, Brian Davies, founder of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The Newfoundland government is on a mission to change public opinion about the seal hunt. 18:47

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.