French food giant Groupe Danone said on Tuesday that it is in exclusive talks to sell its global cookie business to U.S. rival Kraft Foods, Inc. (NYSE: KFT) for $7.2 billion in cash.

The purchase, if approved, will help Kraft boost its snacks division – it’s fastest growing segment – said chairman and CEO Irene Rosenfeld in a statement. Kraft announced its offer on Tuesday.

The deal would give Kraft cookie brands such as LU, Petit Dejeuner, Tuc and Mikado, as well as 36 factories around the world.

We look forward to welcoming the Danone biscuit team to the Kraft family and to working together to build on the growth of their wonderful biscuit brands around the world, Rosenfeld said.

During 2006, Danone’s biscuit businesses generated revenues of $2.7 billion.

The move would allow Danone to focus on the health segment in its fast-growing dairy and drinks business. It would also allow the firm to pay off nearly $4 billion in debts. It would also let the firm raise funds for possible future acquisitions.

Kraft said Danone’s European biscuit headquarters would stay in the Paris region. It does not plan to close any of Danone's manufacturing facilities in France for at least three years after the final deal is signed.

Danone says its biscuits business employees 15,000 people around the world.

The companies expect that a deal could be reached by the last quarter of 2007.