Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has been chosen as the new head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has picked Helen Clark to succeed Kemal Dervis, Ban's spokeswoman said.

Ban has asked the UN General Assembly to confirm Miss Clark as the new UNDP administrator for a four-year term, the spokeswoman added.

The programme was an aid agency with a multi-billion dollar budget operating in 166 countries.

Helen Clark was selected for her outstanding qualifications and numerous accomplishments in her long career, the spokeswoman said.

She had the needed leadership and international recognition that would allow her as the new administrator to build on her predecessors legacy, the spokeswoman said.

Helen Clark, backed by the Government, lobbied hard for the position which is the third highest in the UN behind the secretary-general and his deputy.

Labour Leader Phil Goff said Miss Clark would do a great job in the role.

"She has the leadership and managerial skills, the integrity and competency and international networks to meet the considerable demands of the job," Mr Goff said.

"Helen's achievements as a Member of Parliament, Minister of the Crown, Opposition Leader and Prime Minister are considerable, but her new role will take her on to a different stage."

The UNDP's goals would fit perfectly with the values Miss Clark had promoted throughout her political career, Mr Goff said.

Prime Minister John Key told reporters earlier it would be a tremendous honour for a New Zealander to hold the position.

Mike Moore, the last New Zealander to hold a high-profile international position when he was head of the World Trade Organisation, said the UNDP had problems in many countries because of the "appalling politicians" running them.

"There are bad guys who take money...I've dealt with a lot of these villains and I think Helen will deal to some of them," he said on One News.

For Helen Clark it will be the culmination of a political career that began in 1981 when she was elected MP for Mt Albert, the seat she still holds.

She was always interested in foreign affairs and one of her first tasks in Parliament was running the committee which drafted the anti-nuclear legislation.

After becoming prime minister in 1999 she made many official overseas trips, meeting world leaders and gaining a reputation for her grasp of international affairs.

The UNDP was established in 1965 and among its aims are reducing poverty, halting the spread of HIV/Aids, improving environmental protection and raising the standards of governance internationally.