French Prime Minister Manuel Valls will visit New Zealand next month, the first visit by a French Prime Minister since a 1991 visit by Michel Rocard to rebuild relations after the Rainbow Warrior bombing.

Prime Minister John Key announced Mr Valls will be in Auckland on May 1 and May 2 for formal talks and events focusing predominantly on war commemorations. Mr Key said it would be a "short but very important visit".

"This is the first time in 25 years that a French Prime Minister has visited New Zealand. We have a close and long-standing relationship with France and I am looking forward to discussing a number of issues with Prime Minister Valls, including trade, our mutual interest in the Pacific and the international response to terrorism."

Mr Valls visit comes as New Zealand is campaigning for former Prime Minister Helen Clark to secure the role of Secretary-General of the UN. France is one of the five permanent members on the Security Council which will select the next Secretary-General and Mr Key is likely to raise Ms Clark's candidacy, although it is the practice of the Permanent Five not to publicly reveal their preferences. Mr Key also expected to discuss Security Council related matters such as terrorism with Mr Valls - New Zealand is a member on the Security Council.

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New Zealand is also pushing for a free trade agreement with the European Union, and France will be key to those talks.

Mr Valls will have a formal welcome at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, where he will take part in a wreath laying before holding talks with Mr Key.

Prime Minister Michel Rocard's visit in 1991 was the first since the 1985 bombing of the Rainbow Warrior by French agents Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur. Although Mr Rocard had visited Australia and French territories in the Pacific he did not come to New Zealand because New Zealand and France were still in arbitration over France's breach of an agreement to keep the agents detained on Hao atoll for three years. That was settled in May 1990 when France agreed to put US$2 million into a "friendship fund" between France and New Zealand. That fund was announced by Prime Minister Rocard during his visit and still exists today. There were protests against France's nuclear testing programme in the Pacific during the 1991 visit.