Prime Minister Theresa May signaled Friday that Britain is paving the way for trade talks with other countries well before it leaves the European Union but sought to reassure partners that this would not undermine the bloc's trade aims.

Facing EU leaders for the first time since she came to power on the back of the June U.K. vote to leave the bloc, May said she wants a smooth and cooperative relationship with her partners as the country heads out the exit door, probably in 2019.

At the end of a two-day summit in Brussels, May told reporters: "I've been clear that the U.K. is discussing our future trade relationship with third countries. This will not undermine the EU's trade agenda. It is not in competition with it."