BANGKOK -- Thailand and the U.K. have agreed to resume talks toward a free trade agreement after the U.K. leaves the European Union and Thailand holds general elections.
Brexit is set to take place in March, and the Thai elections are slated for February.
But Thailand's elections could be delayed again, which would push back trade talks. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Tuesday said general elections will not take place before the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.
Prayuth on Wednesday met with his British counterpart, Theresa May, on Downing Street in London. The agreement to resume trade talks came during the official visit.
At the meeting, May called for "free and open elections" in Thailand and urged Prayuth to lift restrictions on political parties, suggesting the U.K. government wants the eventual trade talks to be conducted by representatives of democratically elected governments.
Prayuth, who staged a military coup in May 2014, insisted that elections are due early next year, after the king's coronation.
"They welcomed the long history of friendship between the U.K. and Thailand," May's spokesperson said, "agreeing on the importance of reinvigorating our strategic partnership on issues of mutual interest, such as trade and security."
In April, Liam Fox, the U.K.'s secretary of state for international trade, met with Thai Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong in Bangkok. The two officials assured each other that trade relations between the two countries will remain strong post-Brexit.
The U.K. cannot sign bilateral trade deals until it formally leaves the EU, but it has been upping its economic diplomacy across Asia as part of its Global Britain public relations drive.
A senior Thai Commerce Ministry official said although the two countries have agreed to start trade negotiations, the talks, once they begin, would take up to two years to complete.
Still, Thailand is looking froward to a trade deal with the U.K. as a way to boost exports. The U.K. is Thailand's 18th largest trade partner, with the value of trade between the two nations amounting to more than $7 billion a year.
Thailand's major export items to the U.K. include autos and parts, processed food, cooked chicken, jewelry, electronic circuits, beverages and pharmaceutical products.
U.K. investment in Thailand was worth $990 million in 2017, according to Commerce Ministry data.
Prayuth is scheduled to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday. The official visits to the U.K. and France mark a turnaround for the junta leader, who was shunned by the West when he seized control of the kingdom.