LONDON (Reuters) - Early next year could be the best time for Britain to trigger formal divorce talks with the European Union so a deal can be reached before the next national election in 2020, international trade minister Liam Fox was reported as saying.

The Wall Street Journal reported Fox also said London would likely seek to enter a free-trade agreement with the EU rather than a closer customs union, which he said could restrict its ability to negotiate lower tariffs with other trading partners.

New Prime Minister Theresa May has said Britain will not trigger Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, which formally begins the process of leaving the bloc, this year as it needs time to prepare for negotiations.

The Wall Street Journal said that in an interview, Fox had said the timing was still being debated by the new government but early next year could be best so that Britain can work out its new relationship before the next general election.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Stephen Addison)