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Trump's blunt language sparks fear of an imminent trade war with Germany, say global CFOs

  • Over 64 percent of global CFOs – across a wide range of industries – said they were either "somewhat concerned" or "very concerned" with the tense atmosphere that has developed between the U.S. and Germany.
  • More than one-third of global CFOs said they were either "more optimistic" or "a lot more optimistic" about a Brexit resolution 12 months on from the vote.

A war of words between U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in recent weeks has ignited fears that a trade war could be forthcoming, according to a new survey conducted by CNBC.

Chief financial officers (CFOs) from some of the world's biggest firms said they were largely troubled by the strained relationship between Washington and Berlin as stark differences regarding climate, trade and defense have bubbled to the surface.

Over 64 percent of global CFOs – across a wide range of industries – said they were either "somewhat concerned" or "very concerned" with the tense atmosphere that has developed between the U.S. and Germany.

However, 30.8 percent of respondents said they were "not at all concerned" that the Trump administration's policies and rhetoric toward Berlin would lead to a trade war. Just over 5 percent said they did not know whether the latest political developments should be a cause for concern.

Responses to the CNBC Global CFO Survey are anonymous. All 39 CFOs who completed the survey responded to this question.

The CNBC Global CFO Council represents some of the largest public and private companies in the world, collectively managing more than $4 trillion in market capitalization across a wide variety of sectors. The quarterly CFO Council poll was conducted from June 2-16.

Trump vs. Merkel

At a meeting with EU officials at the end of May, Trump reportedly described Germany's trade policies with the U.S. as "bad, very bad". While the White House moved to dismiss these media reports, Trump has long voiced his frustrations with Germany's trade surplus with the U.S., insisting German imports have damaged the U.S. manufacturing industry.

In January, Trump threatened to slap a 35 percent tax on German auto imports.

"If you want to build cars in the world, then I wish you all the best. You can build cars for the United States, but for every car that comes to the USA, you will pay 35 percent tax," he said in an interview with German newspaper Bild.

Merkel responded to Trump's criticism on Wednesday and appeared next to German born U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger. She said the transatlantic relationship was more about "balancing interests (and) achieving a win-win situation" for both countries.

Brexit optimism

The CNBC Global CFO Survey also asked respondents whether they were now more optimistic or pessimistic regarding the outcome of Brexit one year on from the U.K.'s vote to leave the European Union.

More than one-third of global CFOs said they were either "more optimistic" or "a lot more optimistic" about a Brexit resolution 12 months on from the vote.

Conversely, 23.1 percent said they had become "more pessimistic" over the outcome of Brexit, with more than 40 percent of respondents saying they were either unsure or their view had not changed since June 23 2016.

Official Brexit talks between the U.K. and the EU kicked off on Monday.

Despite British Prime Minister Theresa May's disappointing election result at the start of June, EU leaders appear to have gained renewed confidence since pro-Europe Emmanuel Macron's victory in the French poll last month.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said the EU is "slowly turning the corner."

Here are the full results of this quarter's survey:

—CNBC's Karen Gilchrist contributed to this report.