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U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer testifies before the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on 'U.S.-China Trade', on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 27, 2019.KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters

The United States and China still have hard work ahead to reach a trade deal to end a dispute that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a Congressional hearing on Wednesday was the “most severe” Washington trade policy-makers had faced.

The issues the United States faces with China are “too serious” to be resolved by promises to purchase more U.S. goods and structural changes by China is needed, Lighthizer told a House of Representative’s Ways and Means Committee.

They are the first public comments from the U.S.’s lead negotiator since President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would delay a self-imposed March 1 deadline to raise duties on $200-billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 per cent to 25 per cent, citing progress in the talks.

China has offered to make more than $1.2-trillion in additional purchases of U.S. products. Lawmakers have urged Lighthizer not to allow potential big-ticket purchases to distract him from pursuing an end to what the United States alleges are unfair trade practices.

“I am not foolish enough to think there is going to be one negotiation that’s going to change all the practices with China or our relationship with them,” Lighthizer told the committee, though he noted a successful deal may be a big turning point for the two countries.

While China represents the “most severe challenge” ever faced by U.S. trade policy-makers, Congressional support has been “critical in persuading China” to take Washington’s concerns more seriously, he said.

Trump said this week he may soon meet with China’s President Xi Jinping to finalize a deal, prompting markets to rally. On Wednesday, U.S. stocks added to losses after Lighthizer’s comments.

Lighthizer’s comments that a deal is not imminent were “enough to cause the markets to sell off,” said Michael Antonelli, a managing director at Robert W. Baird in Milwaukee.

The United States has accused Beijing of forcing U.S. companies doing business in China to share their technology with local partners and hand over intellectual property secrets. China denies it engages in such practices.

Trump administration officials also object to nontariff barriers in China, including industrial subsidies, regulations, business licensing procedures, product standards reviews and other practices that they say keep U.S. goods out of China or give an unfair advantage to domestic firms.

Lighthizer on Wednesday said that while some progress has been made in the talks, the United States needs to be able to take unilateral action to enforce any agreement.

“I don’t believe this is going to solve all the problems between the United States and China,” Lighthizer said. “We’re going to be back here and working our way through problems, always with one eye toward the future.”

He also said the United States is seeking to prevent China from competitive devaluation of its currency as part of the talks.