Stephen Harper will land in India this weekend with a simple mission: rekindling a number of high-profile trade deals with this rapidly expanding economy that have either stalled or made slow progress.
Making his second trip in three years, Mr. Harper is keen to establish an even more intensive commercial relationship with India, including a free-trade deal, a foreign-investor protection agreement and a nuclear co-operation accord.
For all Ottawa's efforts, these discussions have failed to bear sufficient fruit in a country that is merely Canada's 15th-largest trading partner today, despite an Indian immigrant population here of more than a million.
"There's a whole lot of stuff going on and it needs a high-level kick in the rear to get moving," one Canadian government official said.
The Prime Minister is devoting close to twice the amount of time to this trip as to his 2009 visit.
He'll spend six days travelling through the country of 1.2 billion people, and unlike last time, this visit isn't tacked onto the itinerary after an APEC summit.
Mr. Harper is coming at a difficult time for the Indian government and will be meeting a distracted political leadership when he arrives.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who's also being courted by other major countries eager for preferential trade access, is presiding over a stalled economy, a paralyzed parliament and a restive population enraged by a series of corruption scandals.
The pace of progress on desperately needed infrastructure projects and key legislative reform has slowed to glacial, as the vast Indian bureaucracy attempts to shield itself from affiliation with unpopular or corrupt decisions.
Meanwhile, Sonia Gandhi, the president of the ruling party, is preoccupied with the declining electoral fortunes of the Indian National Congress; her governing coalition has lost key partners in recent months, and it is not clear that she can muster the votes she needs to pass any new legislation before the next election in 2014.
All this means Mr. Harper will have to fight twice as hard to get the Indian leadership's attention.
It was just 18 months ago that he promised voters in the Conservative Party's 2011 campaign platform that he would aim for a Canada-India free-trade deal by 2013 as a means of cashing in on the growing appetites of India's expanding middle class.
Today, however, Canadian officials privately call that an "ambitious target," a diplomatic way of saying it's a long shot.
Trade-deal talks, launched two years ago, have been frustrating for Canada. Officials privately complain about the Indians, saying negotiators on both sides will conclude discussion in a particular area – "locking it down" in trade parlance – only to find that New Delhi later changes its mind.
"The Indians lock things down and the next time they conveniently forget they've locked it. They agree to things and then they don't agree," one Canadian official said. "It's slow, and they're not as reliable." A sixth round of trade negotiations takes place later this month in Ottawa.
Sources say New Delhi, keen on Canada's potash reserves because the chemical is a key ingredient in fertilizer, at one point tried to link the trade talks to a long-term supply agreement. The Canadians balked, saying they would not intervene to tell a private potash company what to do.
India is also facing domestic calls to rethink investor protection deals that grant foreign companies standing to sue for compensation after a series of controversial cases there – decisions that have given New Delhi pause about enacting more of them.
Separately, Canada is facing pressure to help salvage a nuclear co-operation agreement that remains stuck at a diplomatic impasse. Ottawa and New Delhi struck a deal two years ago that would pave the way for a big export business for Canadian nuclear and uranium companies. But Ottawa insists on Canada's right to verify India's handling of any nuclear material provided from this country.
Canadian nuclear safety officials are in India trying to hammer out a deal.
The trip is as much about domestic politics as international trade. Indo-Canadian voters in the Greater Toronto Area helped the Conservatives win their first parliamentary majority in the 2011 election.
Mr. Harper will visit Chandigarh in northern India, a major source of immigrants for Canada, including many politically active Sikh voters who have helped the Tories win important seats.
The Prime Minister will also travel to the iconic Taj Mahal to get a picture of him visiting India's famous white marble mausoleum like so many other world leaders have before.
Finally, he will journey to India's Silicon Valley where's he's expected to announce Canada is upgrading its trade office in Bangalore.
A full itinerary
Stephen Harper's trip to India marks one of the longest stints of foreign travel for the Prime Minister to date. Where he goes in this complex country of 1.2 billion people is as important as whom he sees. His six-day visit, which starts Sunday, is tailor-made to look good in Canada.
The Taj Mahal, a private
visit: Mr. Harper's private tour of India's most celebrated monument is
a rare privilege – on a normal day, he would share the experience with 7,000
Delhi, an economic
address: In Delhi, Mr. Harper will speak at the opening of a gathering
of the World Economic Forum, the first time that body has come to the
Chandigarh, an immigration
story: The capital of the Punjab, Chandigarh is the source of the
majority of Indian immigrants to Canada, and more than half of Canadians of
Indian origin trace their roots to the Punjab. In that sense, this is a visit
largely for domestic Canadian consumption.
Bangalore, India's high-tech
hub: This sleepy garden city was, until recently, the emblem of the new
Shining India high-tech and business dream. Now Bangalore doesn't conjure up the
vision of economic miracle that it did two or three years ago.
Stephanie Nolen in Delhi