Premier Li Keqiang is set to make the most of the launch of an international gold trading platform today as he beats the drum for the further development of the Shanghai free-trade zone, which has failed to live up to expectations in its first year. His inspection tour of the 28.78 sqkm zone in Shanghai's Pudong district, designed to be a testing ground for further drastic economic reforms on the mainland, is being seen as sending a loud message to investors: Li will stand firm in bolstering the development of the zone, despite increasing scepticism about the much-hyped project. The premier was a key supporter of the zone's establishment last year. The Shanghai Gold Exchange said in a text message to reporters yesterday that Li would make remarks on the launch of the international trading board during his inspection of the zone today. That is an indication that the authorities see the trading debut of the precious metal, with the participation of foreign players, as marking a milestone in the zone's development. Spot gold trading in the zone will be the first concrete liberalisation by the mainland's financial authorities since the inauguration of the zone on September 29 last year. The Shanghai Gold Exchange, under the oversight of the central bank, will launch the platform 11 days ahead of schedule, coinciding with the premier's visit. The zone has been dogged by criticism for the past year, with investors and analysts venting their disappointment over its slow progresses and rigid bureaucracy. Beijing pledged to liberalise the mainland's capital account and launch a market-based interest rate mechanism in the zone to facilitate cross-border capital and cargo flows and reinforce Shanghai's bid to become a global financial centre. However, none of the major liberalisations planned has materialised. The launch of an international trading platform for crude oil in the zone was anticipated to take place in the first half of this year, but it has yet to receive the green light from the cabinet. The premier was believed to have faced strong opposition from ministry-level financial authorities when the State Council drew up a blueprint for the zone last year, with the banking and securities regulators highlighting the risks of hot money flows through the zone. Li did not attend the launch ceremony of the trade zone last year, with the no-show by top state leaders seen as a sign of the leadership's ambivalence towards the project. The authorities announced this week that Dai Haibo, the deputy executive director of the zone's administrative committee and the de facto top official in charge of the zone's development, had been removed from his post for suspected disciplinary violations before he took the helm of the zone.