LONDON: Australia has called for a free trade deal with Britain following its exit from the European Union.

Theresa May described the move as "very encouraging" and insisted it showed Brexit can work for Britain.

In a phone call to the new PM, her Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull said he urgently wanted to open up trading between the two countries.

Liam Fox, the new international trade secretary, said he was already "scoping about a dozen free trade deals".

But Britain cannot sign any deals while it is still an EU member.

May said: "I have been very clear that this government will make a success of our exit from the European Union. One of the ways we will do this is by embracing the opportunities to strike free trade deals with our partners across the globe. It is very encouraging that one of our closest international partners is already seeking to establish just such a deal."

Britain is Australia's seventh largest trading partner, and is second only to the United States when it comes to direct foreign investment down under.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said a free trade agreement with the UK was a priority, although such treaties are complicated and can be time-consuming.

Australia's recent trade deal with China, for example, took a decade to negotiate.

Turnbull has said Canberra could also team up with New Zealand to strike new commercial and immigration accords with the UK following its decision to leave the EU.

Dr Fox, a prominent Brexit campaigner, said numerous non-EU countries had already asked Britain for a trade deal and he was "scoping about a dozen... to be ready for when we leave".

It comes amid reports he is preparing to fly to the United States next week for talks.

In April, President Barack Obama warned the UK it would go to the "back of the queue" for trade deals with the US if it voted to leave the EU.

Following the referendum, he said the UK's decision to leave raised "longer-term concerns about global growth".