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A 1982 agreement between Singapore and Malaysia reduced the amount of phosphates that municipalities had been allowed to dump into the Johor Strait.

Does the above sentence suggest that municipalities are no longer allowed to dump into the Johor Strait?

If one were to express that municipalities is still allowed to dump, but the amount was reduced by the agreement, is it correct to say:

A 1982 agreement between Singapore and Malaysia reduced the amount of phosphates that municipalities are allowed to dump into the Johor Strait.

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A 1982 agreement between Singapore and Malaysia reduced the amount of phosphates that municipalities had been allowed to dump into the Johor Strait.

The past perfect is used for eventualities prior to the 'Reference Time', which in this case is the date in 1982 when the agreement was reached. But a law cannot undo a past eventuality; consequently, this sentence expresses an absurdity: that the 1982 agreement reduced the amount which was allowed to be dumped before the agreement!

Whether you use a present- or past-tense verb in the relative clause depends on what you want to say:

A 1982 agreement between Singapore and Malaysia reduced the amount of phosphates that municipalities were allowed to dump into the Johor Strait. ... This states that the permitted amount was reduced in 1982, but says nothing about what amount is permitted today.

A 1982 agreement between Singapore and Malaysia reduced the amount of phosphates that municipalities are allowed to dump into the Johor Strait. ... This states that the permitted amount was reduced in 1982 to the amount which is (still) permitted today.

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  • I am not sure I understand what you mean by absurdity. Are you saying it is not logical? Why is that? I think the sentence with a past perfect means the allowed amount was reduced at the reference time, much similar to the second sentence with a past tense verb. – Eddie Kal Mar 5 '18 at 14:45
  • @EddieKal The 'past perfect' is ambiguous--it may act either as a perfect-in-past or a past-in-past. Think of it as a backshift of either "The agreement changes the amount which was allowed" or "The agreement changes the amount which has been allowed". Both of these are awkward, and are still awkward when you backshift. What you really want to backshift is "The agreement changes the amount which is allowed." – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 5 '18 at 16:26
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I would use modal may if the agreement still pertains:

A 1982 agreement reduced the amount of phosphates that municipalities may dump into the strait.

If the agreement has lapsed or has been superseded:

A 1982 agreement reduced the amount of phosphates that municipalities had previously been allowed to dump into the strait, but it has lapsed and now dumping is on the rise again.

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