Sir Peter Jackson will be decorated with one of France's highest arts honours when French Prime Minister Manuel Valls visits New Zealand this weekend.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Valls told the Weekend Herald Sir Peter and artist Fiona Pardington would be presented with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres - an order established almost 60 years ago to recognise those who have made a significant contribution to the arts.

"It will be my pleasure to award to Sir Peter Jackson and Fiona Pardington the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for their superb contribution to raising internationally the profile of New Zealand, which, in part thanks to them, has become a dream destination for French people," Mr Valls said.

The visit tomorrow and Monday is the first by a French Prime Minister since a 1991 visit by Michel Rocard to rebuild relations after the Rainbow Warrior bombing.


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.

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.

However, Mr Valls described Ms Clark as "a candidate of high quality".

"We are still at the start of the selection process and we will examine carefully all applications.

"For each of those, France will take into consideration political authority, management and linguistic skills."

About 10,000 French ex-pats live in New Zealand and another 8000 young people come here each year for working holidays.

Mr Valls said he hoped the visit would help strengthen the friendship and economic ties.

Prime Minister John Key has described it as a " short but important visit" for formal talks and events focusing predominantly on war commemorations.

There is an official welcome at the Auckland War Memorial Museum tomorrow, followed by a wreath laying and bilateral talks.