The chief executive of German manufacturer Bosch said the reduction of free global trade is a concern, and that it will be very difficult for President Donald Trump to recover U.S. manufacturing jobs, lost over the decades to low-cost locations.
Volkmar Denner, CEO at Bosch, told CNBC at the China Development Forum on Sunday that having free trade is beneficial to all countries and industrial players.
"I think generally it's a concern to reduce all kinds of free trade," he said, responding to a recent meeting of G-20 finance ministers, which saw the world's largest economies drop a pledge to keep global trade open.
That outcome after a two-day meeting failed to reach a compromise, indicated a victory for Trump's representative, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and a defeat for nations like Germany who sought a strong defense for free trading principles.
Speaking about German chancellor Angela Merkel and finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, Denner said it was likely the two leaders will be disappointed with the outcome.
"I think they have promoted, personally, free trade, and therefore I think they most probably will be disappointed because Germany is a country that's relying heavily on export. And since we are (a) strong industrial nation, we rely on good relations (with) all the countries we do trade with," he said, adding that the difficulty of realizing free trade agreements in the current environment is becoming a concern for German industry.
The Trump administration has put emphasis on having "fairer" trade deals with other countries, vowing to renegotiate existing agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada. Since taking office, Trump also pulled the U.S. out of a key 12-member Pacific trade deal.
That trend, Denner said, is a big concern for Bosch, which has an extensive presence in the U.S. through manufacturing and R&D facilities.
"So far we consider the NAFTA region as one region economically. If this is changed, especially in the relation between the United States and Mexico, this of course is a burden for us and we urgently need to know what the real regulations will be in terms of taxes or whatever...we need clarity," he said.
Trump has also underpinned his "America First" message by urging U.S.-headquartered manufacturers to consider moving jobs back to their home country and threatening to impose penalties on those planning to shift jobs abroad.
Denner said the administration's emphasis on recovering manufacturing jobs lost to low-cost overseas locations was understandable, but the road will likely be tough.
"The policy that we have been following in Germany, I always considered to be a better one because we really are proud to manufacture goods and we have done a lot to keep manufacturing inside the country competitive, although we also have very high wages," he said.
Denner added that Germany kept itself competitive by driving innovation and high-tech manufacturing. But, he acknowledged, the situation in Germany is different to the U.S.
"To turn this around for the United States, having lost so many manufacturing jobs over time, I think will be very, very difficult."
Many critics have said one of the countries that can benefit tremendously from a more protectionist stance from the U.S. is China — Chinese leaders have slowly drummed up their support for more free trade globally.
On China, Denner said that market had the second largest number of Bosch employees after Germany — with more than 60,000 employees — as well as 45 manufacturing sites and 23 technical centers, and that he was very positive on the country.
"We have a very, very strong local footprint and this helps us to enjoy significant growth. We didn't publish the official numbers yet, but (last year) we had double digit growth of our sales in the country, so it's very favorable," he said, adding that Bosch's strategy in the mainland is to bring new technologies into the country.
Denner said he did not see a lack of access to the Chinese market, a common criticism against Beijing from foreign companies, but added certain Chinese regulations — such as restrictions imposed on moving local profits out of the country — were headed in the wrong direction.